14 June 12 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Heather Cleary, translator of Chejfec’s The Planets, which is just out now from us, on her experience in translating the book and what Chejfec’s language might mean:

Holding the reader at arm’s length from the medium of its telling (the early image of the narrator attempting to read a newspaper and seeing only splotches of ink comes to mind), The Planets is therefore marked by a certain—productive—dissonance. That is, it strikes a minor note. For this reason, among others, translating the novel was not so much a matter of pulling a text or pushing a reader, but rather one of situating the work at a remove from colloquial English that was comparable to its relation to colloquial Spanish. Because from this vantage point just beyond the familiar we can observe, through the narrator’s dance with the shadow of his lost friend, the fundamental unnaturalness of the natural.

13 December 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Amazon.com’s new Kindle Fire offers a disappointingly poor user experience. Using the web with the Silk browser is clunky and error-prone. Reading downloaded magazines is not much better. Still, user testing with the Fire did help us understand what the new generation of 7-inch tablets is good for: Are they more like 10-inch tablets (e.g., the iPad) or more like 3.5-inch mobile phones? To give away the conclusion, the answer is: “a bit of both.”

To get an early understanding of a 7-inch tablet’s content, services, and apps usability, we ran usability sessions with the Kindle Fire.

20 June 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This week’s Read This Next selection is My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec, an Argentinian author who currently resides in NYC. My Two Worlds is his first book to be translated into English (it’s on sale in August, published by us), although it’s his most recent work, which is, mysteriously, how things tend to work in translation—I’m the editor of this book, and I’m not even sure why it works that way.

So, rather than tell you why we chose this book for RTN, I suppose it might be more interesting to talk about why Open Letter chose to publish Chejfec, or since I don’t really remember anymore why, specifically, we signed on Chejfec (so far, we’ve signed him for three books, My Two Worlds, The Planets, and The Dark), at least say a few words about why his work appeals to me, and for that I’m going to start backwards, in an awkward place, the place where you reveal things about an author that make him sound difficult, or not salable, and then move away from that toward something slightly less awkward, to the place where potential readers might be found.

The awkward place, then: Sergio Chejfec is a writers’ writer. When I show Spanish-language writers our catalog, or talk about our new or upcoming books, they inevitably stop me at Chejfec’s name—and by they I mean a handful of writers, and by inevitably I mean each member of this handful; that is, they, inevitably; but, to be fair about my confessional fairness, this small sample is a distinguished one—and say something like, “I adore Chejfec.”

Well, what does that mean then, that people who practice at a high level have this sort admiration for one of their fellows? In this case, I think, it means that he does something with his writing that seems magical to them, magical even to people who are familiar with all the tricks and who are themselves in the process of mastering them. For example, and here I hope we’re starting to move toward the less awkward place, but slowly: My Two Worlds, Chejfec’s most recent book, the representative sample of everything he has learned to this moment in his writing life, is a one-hundred-page novel about a walk in a park.

Now, I’m a fan of the ‘walk in a park’ genre of novels (why shouldn’t the walk in the park be a genre?). My favorite is Moo Pak by Gabriel Josipovici, but Chejfec outdoes even Josipovici in his boldness. Rather than a series of conversations that take place over several days at the same park, as in Moo Pak, My Two Worlds is about a single walk, in a single park, on one day, and it takes place almost entirely in the head of its narrator. There are no other interlocutors, except us.

Well. I did say we’re moving slowly toward less awkward.

But what is magical about Chejfec is what he is able to do with this thinnest of threads. It’s what his narrator inhabits during this brief journey, how he imagines himself into the lives of those around him, the digressive reflections that this walk inspires in him—on writing, inheritance, travel, war, on pedal boats. It’s that he’s able to conjure a compelling narrative out of what is almost an anti-narrative—or anti-novel, as Enrique Vila-Matas calls it in his introduction. That he’s able to create this propulsive forward motion out of stasis, out of sitting on a park bench, and with such style, such beautiful style.

This near-magical ability of his is what drew us to Chejfec. And we hope you’ll go over to Read This Next to get a feel for what he’s capable of doing.

9 February 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Call for papers: MTM. Minor Translating Major – Major Translating Minor – Minor Translating Minor
Call Deadline: 31-May-2011

mTm Journal is a new international refereed journal with an Editorial Board comprised of leading scholars in the field of translation studies. mTm aims at starting and promoting a discussion on the particularities of translation from major into minor languages and vice versa, as well as of translation between minor languages. By the term minor language, we mean either a language of limited diffusion or one of intermediate diffusion compared to a major language or language of unlimited diffusion. By the term major language, we mean either a language of unlimited diffusion such as English, or a language that enjoys major status within a state where other, officially recognised minor languages are also spoken (e.g. Finnish as an official language in Finland compared to Swedish).

mTm is published provisionally as one volume per year. Contributions are welcome in one of the following languages: English, German, French, Spanish or Italian. All articles must be accompanied by an abstract of about 200 words in English. The third issue of the journal is scheduled to appear in November 2011. We invite contributions of approximately 6,000-7,000 words by e-mail.

Suggestions can be submitted electronically to the following addresses:

Michael.Cronin@dcu.ie
bq. parianou@dflti.ionio.gr
bq. parianou@gmail.com
bq. kelandrias@dflti.ionio.gr
bq. kelandrias@gmail.com

For more information, please contact Panayotis Kelandrias IIonian University, Corfu, Greece) at kelandrias@dflti.ionio.gr

31 January 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Announcing the launch of ASYMPTOTE, a new international literary journal dedicated to the art and practice of translation. Founded out of Singapore, with editors scattered across the globe, ASYMPTOTE offers a well-calibrated window on world literature, in all its forms.

Issue Jan 2011 features original essays by Mary Gaitskill and Alain de Botton, fiction by Thomas Bernhard and Yoram Kaniuk, poetry by Aimé Césaire, Tan Chee Lay, and Ko Un, drama by Toshiki Okada, and nonfiction by Masahiko Fujiwara and Pablo Martín Ruiz. In total, ASYMPTOTE presents more than thirty-five authors via some of the finest translators working today, including Clayton Eshleman, Forrest Gander, Soren Gauger, Rika Lesser, Pierre Joris and Howard Goldblatt. Also in ASYMPTOTE’s debut issue are visual poems (one on video from Iceland), critical essays, and reviews of the latest books. All of it is available free online at our aesthetically exciting website, where we post not only the translated texts, but also, when available, the works in their original languages, audio recordings of those originals, and accompanying artwork specially curated for each issue.

Asymptote Issue One is available now, by clicking here: http://asymptotejournal.com

13 October 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Yesterday they announced the winner of the National Poetry Series’s Robert Fagles Translation Prize, which carries with it publication by Graywolf Press. This year’s winner is The Rest of the Voyage by Bernard Noël, translated by Eléna Rivera. Here’s the press release:

The National Poetry Series is pleased to announce that Eléna Rivera has been awarded the 2010 Robert Fagles Translation Prize. Ms. Rivera’s project, The Rest of the Voyage, is a translation of the French poet Bernard Noёl, and will be published in November 2011 by Graywolf Press. Acclaimed poet and translator Susan Stewart served as judge for this year’s award, responding with this comment: “Eléna Rivera’s translation of Bernard Noёl’s Le Reste du voyage/The Rest of the Voyage is at once original and remarkably faithful… The succession of poems has a fluency that becomes as mesmerizing as any mode of transport, for Rivera is remarkably adept at varying the lines, landing with emphasis or muting the effect as she follows the speed and light of Noёl’s themes.”

Eléna Rivera is a recipient of a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Translation, a Fundacíon Valparaíso 2009 residency in Mojácar, Spain, and was awarded the 2007 Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico. Her translation of Isabelle Baladine Howald’s Secret of Breath was published by Burning Deck Press 2009. Other translations also can be found in the Chicago Review, Tuesday: An Art Project, Circumference: Poetry in Translation, and Tarpaulin Sky. She is a poet and the author of _Mistakes, Accidents and the Want of Liberty_ (Barque Press, 2006), _Suggestions at Every Turn_ (Seeing Eye Books, 2005), and most recently Remembrance of Things Plastic (LRL e-editions, 2010). She lives in New York City.

Poet, novelist, essayist, historian and art critic Bernard Noël received the Prix National de Poésie in 1992. He was given the poet laureateship as well as the Grand Prix International Guillevic-Ville de Saint-Malo for his oeuvre in 2005. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, novels and essays, among others: Les Plumes d’Éros, Œuvres I (P.O.L., 2010—the first volume of a collected works which P.O.L. is editing and publishing), L’espace du poème, interviews with D. Sampiero  (P.O.L., 2004), Les yeux dans la couleur (P.O.L., 2004), Un trajet en hiver (POL, 2004), Romans d’un regard (P.O.L, 2003), La Peau et les Mots (P.O.L, 2002), Le roman d’Adam et Eve_  (L’Atelier des Brisants, 2001), _La Face de silence (P.O.L, 2002), Le Syndrome de Gramsci (POL, 1994), La Chute des temps (Gallimard, 1993), La rumeur de l’air (Fata Morgana, 1986). In France, his poems are accessible in three pocketbook editions: La Chute des temps and Extraits du corps from Poésie/Gallimard and Le Reste du voyage : Et Autres Poèmes from Points/poésie Seuil.

The National Poetry Series established the Robert Fagles Translation Prize in 2007. This award is given every other year to a translator who has shown exceptional skill in the translation of contemporary international poetry into English. Previous winners are Marilyn Hacker for King of a Hundred Horsemen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), and Lawrence Venuti for Edward Hopper (Graywolf Press, 2009).

Before his death in 2008, Mr. Fagles told National Poetry Series Director, Daniel Halpern, “When you honor the act of translation, you stand to make the act of reading what it is:  an enterprise of interaction among different times and different regions of the world itself.”

The National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to ensure the publication of poetry books annually through participating publishers. Publication is funded by the Lannan Foundation, Stephen Graham, Joyce & Seward Johnson Foundation, Glenn & Renee Schaeffer, Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds, and, the Edward T. Cone Foundation.

Graywolf Press is an independent, not-for-profit publisher dedicated to the creation and promotion of thoughtful and imaginative contemporary literature essential to a vital and diverse culture. For more information, please visit www.graywolfpress.org.

For more information, please contact The Coordinator, The National Poetry Series, 57 Mountain Avenue, Princeton, NJ, 08540, Phone: 609.430.0999 Fax: 609.430.9933 www.nationalpoetryseries.org

2 September 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki, Finland at the invitation of the Finnish Literature Exchange. FILI invited fourteen editors, from Tawain to the UK to the US, to attend a few lectures on the Finnish Publishing scene, meet with individual publishers and agents, and generally soak up the publishing atmosphere in Helsinki.

The first morning was taken up with two lectures, the first by Sakari Laiho, the director of the Finnish Book Publishers Association. The organization was founded in 1858—much of Finnish publishing seems to have gotten its start around this time—and they currently represent 103 publishers. These 103 publishers account for 80% of the commercial books printed in Finland and 90% of the revenue. Some facts and figures from his lecture:

  • Books account for €300 million in sales/year
  • 10% of that is domestic fiction
  • 77% of Finns buy a book in a year
  • 16% of Finns buy more than ten books a year
  • That 16% accounts for 54% of the books sold
  • Two book chains account for 80% of the market
  • The average print run is around 2000 copies
  • Sofi Oksanen’s Purge sold 160,000(!) copies (There are around five million Finns.)

The most interesting tidbit from this lecture was about ‘sample stock’. In Finland, every publisher sends one copy of each book they publish to every bookstore. The bookstores agree to keep that book in their store for one or two years. If that copy is sold, they agree to order a replacement copy and so on. If it isn’t sold in that time, they return it to the publisher. This is a fantastic, if not universally exportable, idea.

The next lecture was by the director of the Academic Bookshop (the above photo is of their flagship store in Helsinki), Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt. Academic is the largest book chain in Finland; they have seven shops and account for 10% of the market (I’m not sure how these numbers square with the numbers of the last lecture). Some facts and figures from her lecture:

  • Academic Bookshop sold €562 million in books in 2008
  • In 2008, 13,419 books were published (I love how exact that number is)
  • 10,515 were in Finnish
  • 627 were in Swedish (There’s a large minority Swedish population in western Finland, around 5-6% of Finns are Finnish-Swedish)
  • 2,277 were in translation (A healthy 17%)
  • In 1965, there were 788 book shops
  • In 1972, they abolished the fixed price law (each bookstore sells the same book at the same price)
  • In 1975, there were 603 book shops
  • Today there are 296
  • Academic’s flagship store is 3000 square meters and houses 100,000 books
  • Academic buys from 10,000 (!!!) publishers worldwide

The above photo is of the ceiling of the Academic Bookshop. It’s a beautiful space. This whole building was purpose-designed for books by the Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto. The shop also has a café, Café Aalto, on the second floor, where I spent hours and hours; their espresso is really good and they have these fantastic sweet croissant things that I could eat by the dozen.

After the lectures were done, each of the editors had scheduled individual meetings with all of the publishers. I ended up having ten meetings altogether, which seemed to give me a pretty good overview of everything that is going on there—well, as much as can be gleaned in three days without the ability to speak or read a single word of Finnish. But I met with the biggest publishers, like WSOY and Otava, and newer publishers, like Siltala, and heard about the authors they’re excited about; that’s one of the really great things about working for Open Letter, by the way. We do different kinds of books here (My favorite story so far is when a publisher was going to tell us about two books: one, a more commercial author, they thought would sell 10,000 copies in the US, and the other, a more literary author, who was wonderful but who they thought would sell 1,000. Chad and I both said at the same time, “Tell us about the 1000 copy guy.”), and because we do a special kind of book, I feel like we have different kinds of meetings with publishers. There’s a common sort of lament in publishing, and I heard it in Finland too, that publishing used to be different before the money guys got involved. People are usually in publishing for the same reason—it feels like you’re a part of something a little romantic in a world without much magic left in it—but one tends to spend most of one’s time outside of that romantic space, worrying about sales, or having hour-long discussions about books written by wrestlers. We have maybe a bit more access to that romantic space than most (thank you, University of Rochester), and so in our meetings those worries tend to disappear, which, in the end, makes for a much better meeting. I get to say, “Just tell me about who you love.” And that’s a lot of fun.

Anyway, the above photo is from the ‘cash desk’ at Otava. In the old days, authors would come by Otava once a week to pick up the money from their sales. Finland’s only Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, used to come by here, until it was decided that it might be better for his wife to come instead.

On the last day of the trip, we were invited to a luncheon at the Finnish Literature Society. Also at the luncheon were the nine members of a translation symposium on the work of Monika Fagerholm, fourteen translators who were taking part in a beginning translation seminar, and numerous members of the Finnish publishing community, many of whom we had had the privilege to meet. The above photo is of FILI’s director, the lovely, thoughtful, intelligent, and multi-lingual (I think I heard her speak at least five different languages when I was there) Iris Schwanck, who delivered a moving lecture to cap the trip.

Thanks to Iris and everyone at FILI, and everyone in Finland who was kind enough to take the time out of their busy schedules to meet with me, for an absolute gem of a week.

Don’t forget to check out FILI’s Books in Finland literary journal, and, if you’re going to Frankfurt, try to catch up with Iris and the FILI team.

28 July 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This year, Writers in Translation celebrates its fifth anniversary with the publication of an anthology containing extracts from the 36 books that the programme has supported since its inception. Making the World Legible contains a dazzling array of fiction, non-fiction and poetry from some of the best international writers of our time; distinct and powerful voices from every corner of the globe.

It’s available now, and, best of all, it’s free! Click here to download it in the dreaded PDF formatTM.

18 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Planet Magazine just posted an interview with Alejandro Zambra:

Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier wrote in an essay that a Baroque style was the natural mode for Latin American fiction. He claimed that an excess of language was needed to account for an unknown reality. It was not possible to write “a ceiba”, he said, as one wrote “a pine tree”. It was necessary to describe and define the ceiba. Is it necessary to create a Latin American minimalism?

No, it isn’t. I don’t promote minimalism nor maximalism. I think people should write what they want and need to write. I think Carpentier’s observation is beautiful, but it implies a risky idea regarding audiences. Whom do we have to explain ourselves to? I believe to no one. We should not write to let the ceiba be known. We should write because of a personal need, because it’s what we do best.

18 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, has died at the age of 87, his publisher has announced.

17 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In our fifty-first year of publication, the editors of the Massachusetts Review plan to dramatically increase the amount of fiction, poetry, and socially-engaged nonfiction they publish in translation. Today, we see a great need for literary journals to internationalize—to open their ears and their pages to voices from outside the United States, and to writers in languages other than English. MR believes we have a real opportunity for synergy with friends and colleagues from local institutions, given the strength of the University of Massachusetts Amherst programs in translation, of the locally-based translation studies journal Metamorphoses, as well as of the American Studies Diploma Program at Smith College (a one-year graduate program exclusively for international students). But we will of course need the help of readers, colleagues, and translators from across the globe. To that end, we announce the Jules Chametzky Prize for Literary Translation.

The Jules Chametzky Prize in Literary Translation, sponsored by the Massachusetts Review, will be awarded annually to the best poem and prose translations published within our pages in a Volume year. Judges for the award will be MR’s translation editors, Ellen Watson and Edwin Gentzler, along with an additional third judge, chosen yearly from the local pool of translation experts. MR editors are not eligbile for the prize. Once a decision has been made, the writers in both categories will be contacted directly. The prize will award $500 each for the best poetry and prose translations to appear in MR’s pages in a Volume year. There is no entry fee; all submissions must be adhere to our general guidelines, which you will find here. A copy of the translated text should be submitted along with the translation.

To put it simply, our goal is to publish great writing from across the globe, from writers we haven’t yet heard.

They’re accepting submissions starting October 1st…

15 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Sorry to everyone who reads Three Percent through an RSS reader. The University of Rochester’s central server went down yesterday, and we had to re-create the last few days of posts. So you probably got a lot of duplicates in your feed reader this morning. Fingers crossed, everything should be back to normal…

2 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Daniel Brunet for The Last Fire, a play by Dea Loher that examines the devastation wrought on a small community by the accidental death of a child. Following its premiere in Hamburg in 2008, it won both the 2008 Play of the Year award from Theater Heute and the 2008 Mülheim Drama Prize. (No publisher)

Alexander Dawe for a collection of short stories by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpmar (1901-1962), “the most surprising writer of 20th-century Turkish literature.” Opulent and lyrical in tone, Tanpmar’s stories orchestrate Western and Eastern influences to speak of ordinary people torn by their allegiances to the past. (No publisher)

Peter Golub for a collection of flash fictions by Linor Goralik, an underground Russian author beginning to make a name for herself in the literary mainstream. These very short stories catch their characters in midflight, like strangers on an airplane, combining the mythic with the banal to startling effect, as when the wolf, disobeying doctor’s orders, steps out for one last visit to the three little pigs. (No publisher)

Piotr Gwiazda for Kopenhaga by Grzegorz Wroblewski, a Polish poet who has lived in Copenhagen since 1985, “far from Poland and far from Denmark.” Intimate, sarcastic, lucid, and uncompromising, Kopenhaga addresses the immigrant experience in post-Cold War Europe with documentary evidence and intellectual rigor. (No publisher)

David Hull for Waverings, a novel by Mao Dun (1896-1981), who joined the nascent Chinese Communist Party in 1921. A depiction of the failed revolution of 1927 set among workers, peasants, and Communist Party officials in an unnamed county seat in Hubei Province, Waverings won its author great acclaim, but its pessimism drew criticism from doctrinaire Communists. Hull’s translation is based on both the 1928 edition, published immediately after the events the novel describes, and the 1958 edition, significantly altered by the author. (No publisher)

Akinloye A. Ojo for Afaimo and other Poems (1972) the only poetry collection by Akinwumi Isola, a novelist, playwright, and one of the foremost figures in Yorùbá literature. Moving between exhortatory matter-of-factness and ecstatic incantation, these poems are a love song to the language they were written in. “Is it really my fault? / The bug that ate the vegetable isn’t guilty. / There is a limit to a plant’s beauty. Whoever pursues Àsúnlé is guiltless.” (No U.S. publisher)

Angela Rodel for Holy Light, stories by Georgi Tenev, a Bulgarian playwright, novelist, film/TV screenwriter, and talk show host. Alloying political sci-fi with striking eroticism, the stories in Holy Light depict a world of endless, wearying revolution and apocalypse, where bodies have succumbed to a sinister bio-politics of relentless cruelty and perversion. “In first class they offered easy emancipation, perhaps even electrocution, but he was traveling economy class where they wouldn’t even serve him food.” (No publisher)

Margo Rosen for Poetry and Untruth, a novel by Anatoly Naiman. Juxtaposing the fates of four Russian poets of the early 20th century (Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva) with those of the generation that came of age during Khrushchev’s thaw, this is part novel, part historical document. It draws from the writings of Russia’s greatest poets and the author’s own experience (he was Akhmatova’s literary secretary from 1962-1966) to convey a century of creative life that transcends the direness of Soviet history. (No publisher)

Chip Rossetti for Animals in Our Days, short stories by Mohamad Makhzangi, an Egyptian psychiatrist, journalist and fiction writer who was studying alternative medicine in Kiev during the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Drawing on Arabic traditions of animal fables, these stories, written with “translucent poetic sensibility,” use animals to comment on political oppression and the human capacity for encountering the magical and the inexplicable. (To be published by the American University in Cairo Press.)

Bilal Tanweer for Love in Chikiwara (And Other Such Adventures), a 1964 novel by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar (1920-2002)that has long been considered a masterpiece of Urdu humor. Our narrator, a genial, gullible bakery owner, makes the serious mistake of befriending Qurban Ali Kattar, the “Thomas Hardy of Urdu Literature,” who shamelessly exploits his hero-worship of all writers. A supporting cast of religious scam artists, bookbinders, restaurant owners, butchers, and minor deities make this novel something new and strange and warmly welcoming. (No publisher)

Diane Thiel for The Great Green, a 1987 novel by Eugenia Fakinou. Hugely popular in Greece (where it is now in its 43rd reprint), The Great Green portrays a woman escaping the constrictions of family and societal expectations. It interweaves the whole span of Greek history, from the Minoans and Homer’s Achaeans to the late Byzantine and early 19th-century periods, into the story of a single day in our own time, when an unknown woman mysteriously appears in a Greek village.

1 June 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Last week, the Center for the Art of Translation started a fundraising campaign for their Poetry Inside Out program. Thought some of you might be interested in contributing:

This week, we’re starting a campaign to raise $15,000 to bring Poetry Inside out to 250 new students this fall. We’d like to ask all the translators, publishers, writers, and readers out there to help us. If you love world lit, this is your chance to help bring that literature to young readers.

This is what we do: since 2000 PIO has worked with more than 5,000 students through residencies that place poet-translators in Bay Area classrooms. Our program inspires children from the inside out. They learn to take risks, be creative, and use imagination and critical thinking skills as they read, write, and translate poems by the world’s great poets. Our curriculum includes poems in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Latvian, Italian, and Japanese–children are introduced to writing from all around the world, and hopefully they go on to love translated literature for the rest of their lives!

Over the past decade we’ve forged strong partnerships with schools, but these ties are being threatened. Like many other states, California is out of money. When these cuts take effect, arts-enrichment programs–even ones as rigorous and clearly beneficial as Poetry Inside Out–are often the first things that are eliminated.

That’s why we’re reaching out to the community to offset these budget cuts and continue to offer Poetry Inside Out residencies in Bay Area classrooms. School program fees cover only one third of the cost of the program, and even that is uncertain for the fall.

The $15,000 we’re hoping to raise before June 18 will support 10 in-school residencies–that’s teachers for more than 250 Bay Area kids, who will learn to love translations, world literature, and creative writing.

If you can help, click the link to make a donation. All donations–no matter the size–will help us reach our goal and bring poetry and translation to students.

26 May 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Alejandro Zambra is in New York this week, supporting the sort-of-forthcoming-sort-of-just-published The Private Lives of Trees. On Monday, he was at the lovely Greenlight Books in Fort Greene, Brooklyn on a panel that Dennis Johnson put together to celebrate Melville House’s The Art of the Novella Series. Here he his with his American agent, Andrea Montejo, Lore Segal, and Dennis, just before the panel started.

Greenlight has a display of the entire Novella series (I snuck Private Lives in there too!).

Then last night he had a reading with his translator Megan McDowell at the beautiful 192 Books.

I had a front row seat.

If you’d like to meet Alejandro while he’s here in NYC, and hear him read from The Private Lives of Trees, your last chance is tomorrow night at the Melville House Bookstore, where we’re throwing a book launch party for him. And when you meet him, be sure to ask what he thinks of Pablo Neruda.

5 April 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Quim Monzó, whose Gasoline we’re releasing shortly, has two stories in Words without Borders’s PEN World Voices issue, Mr. Beneset and Honesty.

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

They’ve just announced the official line-up for this year’s PEN World Voices Festival. If you want the whole run-down, click here.

One of our authors, Quim Monzó, is attending this year. And in addition to the event he’s doing here in Rochester with his translator Mary Ann Newman on April 26th, he’s got several events lined up in New York as well: on the 29th with Colm Tóibín, Roxanna Robinson, and Darryl Pinckney; on the 30th with Robert Coover; and on May 1st with Peter Schneider and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Mary Ann Newman will also be discussing Quim’s work at the National Book Critics Circle Conversation on the April 30th.

Click here for more details on Quim’s events on the PEN World Voices website.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to spend a few hours figuring out which events (besides Quim’s, of course) I’m going to attend. Hope to see you there!

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

So, even though we’re in danger right now of becoming a blog that only writes about book prizes (or maybe I’m only feeling that way because the Best Translated Book Award has been on my mind for so long), we would be remiss if we didn’t make mention of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist:

  • Boris Akunin The Coronation (translated by Andrew Bromfield from the Russian) Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Ketil Bjørnstad To Music (Deborah Dawkin & Erik Skuggevik; Norwegian) Maia Press
  • Hassan Blasim The Madman of Freedom Square (Jonathan Wright; Arabic) Comma Press
  • Philippe Claudel Brodeck’s Report (John Cullen; French) MacLehose Press
  • Julia Franck The Blind Side of the Heart (Anthea Bell; German) Harvill Secker
  • Pietro Grossi Fists (Howard Curtis; Italian) Pushkin Press
  • Elias Khoury Yalo (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) MacLehose Press
  • Jonathan Littell The Kindly Ones (Charlotte Mandell; French) Chatto & Windus
  • Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass (Helen Stevenson; French) Serpent’s Tail
  • Javier Marías Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (Margaret Jull Costa; Spanish) Chatto & Windus
  • Yoko Ogawa The Housekeeper and the Professor (Stephen Snyder; Japanese) Harvill Secker
  • Claudia Piñeiro Thursday Night Widows (Miranda France; Spanish) Bitter Lemon Press
  • Sankar Chowringhee (Arunava Sinha; Bengali) Atlantic
  • Rafik Schami The Dark Side of Love (Anthea Bell; German) Arabia Books
  • Bahaa Taher Sunset Oasis (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) Sceptre

There are a few things to note: Although the bigger presses, or big name presses, are well represented, it’s interesting to note how much of the heavy lifting for translation in the UK is done by smaller independent presses (Comma, Maia, Bitter Lemon); there are three books (three!) that are translated from Arabic, which has to be some kind of record; and Humphrey Davies and Anthea Bell have the knack—two nominated titles each.

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

Tomorrow is the big day: We’ll be announcing the winners of the 2010 Best Translated Book Award!

Click the image below to download a PDF with all the details, but in brief: 7:00pm at Idlewild Books in NYC—oh, and drinks will be provided. Hope to see you there!

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

Norwegians are said to be born with skis on their feet—ready from birth for a life in harmony with the inhospitable Nordic nature.

Maybe my mother was lacking some important vitamin during the pregnancy. No skis accompanied me into this world. Instead of seeking the woods and mountains like a true Norwegian—“There is no bad weather, only poor clothing!” as we say—I came to prefer asphalt under my feet, the safety of skyscrapers, and the soft breeze from passing subway cars, deep underground. I am allergic to trees.

But I didn’t miss out on the other thing Norwegians are born with: citizenship in the world’s most generous and equitable welfare state.

This is about what happens when rich, well-traveled, and well-educated children from a tiny Viking country covered in forest grow up and try to write fiction.

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

In Buenos Aires in 1967 Borges began an unusual working relationship with a young Italian-American translator, Norman Thomas di Giovanni, whom he had met at Harvard. Di Giovanni had recently translated a collection of verse by Spanish poets, and asked Borges for a contribution. He got more than he bargained for: the privilege of translating several books of poetry and prose and an intercontinental job relocation scheme. The collaboration was all the stranger given the pair’s differing political ideas: di Giovanni was once an anarchist; Borges would go on to support Generals Videla and Pinochet.

Nonetheless, what they produced during this period were not simple translations. Some of their time was given to the collaborative composition of original versions of Borges’s stories in English. Borges’s grandmother was from the Midlands, and he was consequently fluent in English, albeit in a reportedly antiquated turn-of-the-century style. So di Giovanni earned equal writing credit for versions of stories including Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, The Library of Babel and The Lottery in Babylon.

18 February 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

Last fall at Frankfurt I visited with quite a few Norwegian publishers, and every one of them was talking about Karl Ove Knausgård’s Min Kamp (My Struggle, or Mein Kampf to make the provocation plain), which our good friends at Oktober Forlaget were publishing in six volumes, three in one season and three the next, for a total of over 3,000 pages.

They all struggled to describe the novel, beyond saying that it was an obsessive biography about a man’s relationship to his father. That everyone brought it up, even Oktober’s competitors, was really intriguing, but even we aren’t crazy enough (maybe I shouldn’t speak so soon) to publish a six-volume novel about a man’s relationship to his father, and intrigued as I was I had resigned myself to the fact that the object of my curiosity was likely to remain forever beyond my reach, barring some sort of publishing miracle.

However, thanks to the technological internet-wonders of the Google Alert, I found a little more info about the book on a Swedish blog called Notes from the North, which I have dutifully bookmarked. Here’s a bit from the piece:

The Knausgård hysteria hasn’t spread yet to the East of the Scandinavian mountains but it will in the fall when the books are published in Swedish. I wonder if the book will be as prized for its honesty, but also so despised for certain things it is too honest about. As it’s said, the author reveals a lot, the reviewers, like myself reveal a lot of themselves, and the public reveals a lot when they show such pithy resentment towards literature. It’s nice that books still create a debate though, isn’t it?

I suggest the following. We take Min kamp and its possible interpretations to their logical consequence. Maybe the genius of this work is that the author has gone from being a puncture in the tale to the tale in itself. Isn’t it so that we should read Min kamp as a development of the narrator as the one whose judgment is in question to the narrator who is the one whose questioned judgment pushes the tale on and becomes the tale itself?

So, you can see why I’m so curious, even if it sounds like maybe I ultimately wouldn’t like the novel. If you want to read something by Karl Ove Knausgård, Archipelago published one of his earlier novels, A Time for Everything, last fall.

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

Today marks the third anniversary of Jakov Lind’s death. It was the occasion of his death that first brought Lind to our attention—I’m pretty sure I first read about him on Ready, Steady, Book, where Mark posted a link to his obituary. I did a little investigating, and I discovered that his books had fallen out of print, but at the time I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. However, when we started Open Letter there was no question that we would be bringing some of Lind’s work back into print. From the first pages of Landscape in Concrete you know that you’re reading something special, and Ergo is no different. My only disappointment was that New York Review Books beat us to Soul of Wood.

Joshua Cohen is one of the writers who memorialized Lind (accidentally memorialized, as it turned out), and he was kind enough to agree to write an introduction to our edition of Landscape. We thought it would be appropriate to remember Lind today by posting that introduction, to give everyone who reads this blog a chance to discover this incredible novelist and extraordinary man:

*

“Jakov Lind” was a pseudonym for a man without a name. According to the rolls of a host of long-since defunct regimes, “Lind” was once known as Jakov Chaklan, Palestinian Jew (this was back when you could be one of those), and before that he was Jan Gerrit Overbeek, Dutch bargehand, which was the Nazi-era identity of Heinz Landwirth, Viennese. The author of Landscape in Concrete—and also of the stories of Soul of Wood, the novel Ergo, two other novels, another collection of stories, an Israeli travelogue, three memoirs, numerous stage and radio plays, and occasional poetry—might have been all of these people, and he might have been none. This is not meant “deconstructively,” however, or in a spirit of relativism. What’s being asserted here, at the beginning, is trauma. Is not knowing what to call one’s self. Is not having a private name for one’s self.

Landwirth was born in 1927, the year of the first trans-Atlantic telephone call, the year that television was first publicly demonstrated. Lindbergh flew to Paris; Trotsky was ousted from the Communist Party. This was not long after the collapse of the monarchy—the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s dissolution, through the first of the wars, from a relatively unified official culture, German-speaking, German-writing, into a smattering of countries impoverished with insular nationalisms. The author’s closest affinities lay here, with the ideal Habsburgs in their tubercular, war-wounded death throes; his childhood ailment is the Proustian languor, the mourning of a past that’s always near, strangely distant, unlived and yet, lost: “If I’m sick I vomit broken china and golden frames,” he writes in the first volume of his autobiographical trilogy. “What, if not handmade in the nineteenth century, is my Middle European soul?”

Read More...

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.

26 January 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Robert Chandler was on the Leonard Lopate show last week to discuss his translation (with his wife, Elizabeth) of Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows. Grossman’s Life and Fate, also published by NYRB Classics, is a fantastic book, and this sounds like it’s certainly worth a look too.

25 January 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Morning Edition had a cool piece on this morning about this year’s recently concluded (as in today) Jaipur Literature Festival, which included a few seconds with the Festival’s director William Dalrymple.

It’s only the Festival’s 5th year, but they have managed to line up an impressive list af attendees already, including: Alain Mabanckou, Esther Freud, Amit Chaudhuri, Roberto Calasso, and many others.

We’ve never been (we’re always open for an invitation!), but it sounds amazing.

18 January 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Dubravka Ugresic interview at The Rumpus.

The Czech Literature Portal.

Translators Struggle to Prove Their Academic Bona Fides at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

6 January 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The January issue of Words Without Borders is online (as is their new, and Vastly improved, website), and this month it focuses on ‘flash fiction.’

Our own Quim Monzó has two stories featured, Thirty Lines and The Fork. Also featured is one of my personal favorites, José Eduardo Agualusa.

(Even if you aren’t into flash fiction, the new site is worth a visit. Just about everything that kept me away before has been fixed. It’s truly a breath of fresh air. Congrats to everyone there on the new design.)

28 December 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

A few weeks ago, Larry Rohter of the New York Times came up to interview just about everyone involved in Open Letter and the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation programs. The piece he was working on appeared in the paper over the weekend.

So, if you’re curious what we’re doing up here, and if you’re reading this I assume you have to be at least a little curious, the article will give you a good overview of our program and vision.

23 December 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The International Rivers Interview Series was born of two unrelated events. The first was a Roni Horn exhibit I saw some years back in New York featuring the work Still Water (The River Thames, For Example). Horn framed multiple close-up shots of the Thames passing through central London and approached the river with a number of questions. I remember Horn asking, ‘What is the color of water?’ and the elegant simplicity of that question struck me. One answer is that it has no color, that water is a body that either reflects its surroundings by throwing back a visual reply or absorbing organic matter. Water is, Horn later said, “a master chameleon. Or the ultimate mime.” Could rivers like the Thames, I wondered, reflect more than mud, trees and bridges, but history and culture too?

They’ll be interviewing four writers: Sasa Stanisic, György Dragomán, Dumitru Tsepeneag, and our own Dubravka Ugresic. The first interview, with György Dragomán, is up now.

An idea that’s definitely worth keeping up with.

22 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by our own E.J. Van Lanen on Jean Echenoz’s Running, which was recently released by The New Press in Linda Coverdale’s translation.

Personally, I’m a big Echenoz fan—especially of his earlier noir-detective books like Cherokee—and this is one of the many books I’m looking forward to reading for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards. (Since it released in December, this isn’t eligible for this year’s award.) In fact, there are a slew of Dec-Feb books that I can’t wait to read . . . but more on that tomorrow.

Here’s the opening of E.J.‘s review:

Jean Echenoz’s Running is a fictional investigation of the life and athletic genius of Emil Zátopek, a Czech long-distance runner who is widely regarded as one of the great runners of the 20th Century.

The novel opens in World War II, with the German invasion of Moravia. Emil, a teenager at the time, is working at the Bata shoe factory, his hoped-for future as a schoolteacher having fallen by the wayside. To promote themselves, the factory organizes sports teams and athletic events, and despite his loathing of all athletic activity, Emil is compelled to represent the factory in a cross-country race against several members of the Wehrmacht. To his surprise, Emil finishes second in the race and is invited to join a running club, which he resists at first:

“Against all odds, he soon starts enjoying himself. He doesn’t say anything but seems to be getting into it; after a few weeks he even begins running on his own, just for the pleasure of it, which astonishes him, and he prefers not to mention this to anyone. After nightfall, when no one can see him, he does the round trip between the factory and the forest as fast as he can. Although he doesn’t breathe a word about this, the others catch on in the end, pressure him again, and, too nice a guy to resist for long, he gives in since it means so much to them.

“Well, nice as he is, he begins to realize that he likes a good fight: the first few times they let him loose on a track, he goes for all he’s worth and easily wins two races, of 1,500 and 3,000 meters. People congratulate him, encourage him, reward him with an apple and a slice of bread and butter, tell him to come back again and he goes back again and starts training in the stadium, at first for a laugh but not for long.”

Click here for the full review.

22 December 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Jean Echenoz’s Running is a fictional investigation of the life and athletic genius of Emil Zátopek, a Czech long-distance runner who is widely regarded as one of the great runners of the 20th Century.

The novel opens in World War II, with the German invasion of Moravia. Emil, a teenager at the time, is working at the Bata shoe factory, his hoped-for future as a schoolteacher having fallen by the wayside. To promote themselves, the factory organizes sports teams and athletic events, and despite his loathing of all athletic activity, Emil is compelled to represent the factory in a cross-country race against several members of the Wehrmacht. To his surprise, Emil finishes second in the race and is invited to join a running club, which he resists at first:

Against all odds, he soon starts enjoying himself. He doesn’t say anything but seems to be getting into it; after a few weeks he even begins running on his own, just for the pleasure of it, which astonishes him, and he prefers not to mention this to anyone. After nightfall, when no one can see him, he does the round trip between the factory and the forest as fast as he can. Although he doesn’t breathe a word about this, the others catch on in the end, pressure him again, and, too nice a guy to resist for long, he gives in since it means so much to them.

Well, nice as he is, he begins to realize that he likes a good fight: the first few times they let him loose on a track, he goes for all he’s worth and easily wins two races, of 1,500 and 3,000 meters. People congratulate him, encourage him, reward him with an apple and a slice of bread and butter, tell him to come back again and he goes back again and starts training in the stadium, at first for a laugh but not for long.

Emil’s running style and training methods are self-taught and unorthodox—Echenoz makes a few attempts to describe Zátopek’s strained and painful-looking style—but these methods prove effective for Emil. He begins winning races around occupied Czechoslovakia and comes in fifth at the European Championships in Oslo, breaking the Czech record. After the end of World War II, Emil is drafted into the army, whom he represents at the Allied Forces Championships in Berlin. During the race he laps several of the competitors and the crowd goes wild—Emil suddenly finds himself world famous.

His fame makes him the perfect propaganda tool for the fledgling communist country, so Emil is made an “Athlete of the State”. He marries a fellow athlete, and he wins gold in the 10,000 meters in the 1948 Olympics in London—the first such medal for Czechoslovakia. This is the beginning of Emil’s dominance of distance running. He wins everywhere he goes and sets a world records almost every time out. He is the fastest man on earth. His career reaches a peak at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where he wins gold in the 5,000 meters, the 10,000 meters, and, incredibly, in the marathon—a race he had never run before in his life.

Inevitably, age catches up with Emil, and he begins losing races, until he finally retires following the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

In Running, Echenoz has chosen a compelling figure to focus on. Zátopek’s story—a reluctant athlete who, through serendipity and will, becomes a legend and a hero to his country—is truly fascinating. Echenoz’s style here is perfectly suited to the action, the races in particular are well described, and Linda Coverdale’s translation is transparent.

The novel, however, can at times feel like a simple recapitulation of Emil’s victories. There isn’t really any psychological depth to the ‘character’ of Emil nor much tension in the telling of his story. This seems intentional for the most part; Echenoz appears to be more interested in the accomplishments, which are astounding, than in the man, and much of the political background of the novel serves more as context, or simple fact, than as motivation for anything that takes place. I’d categorize it as creative non-fiction rather than as a novel. At a really brief 128 pages, Running is a fascinating story that rescues, for me at least, an important and highly influential athlete from obscurity.

2 December 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The nominations for the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2010 were announced yesterday:

Denmark
Peter Laugesen
Fotorama (Photorama)
Poetry collection, Forlaget Borgen 2009

Ida Jessen
Børnene (The Children)
Novel, Forlaget Gyldendal 2009

Finland
Sofi Oksanen
Puhdistus (Purge)
Novel, WSOY 2008

Monika Fagerholm
Glitterscenen (The Glitter Scene)
Roman, Söderströms och Albert Bonniers Förlag 2009

Iceland
Einar Kárason
Ofsi (Fury)
Novel, Mál og menning 2008 (Danish translation by Kim Lembek)

Steinar Bragi
Konur (Women)
Novel, Mál og menning 2008 (Swedish translation by Inge Knudson)

Norway
Karl Ove Knausgård
Min kamp 1 (My Struggle, Part 1)
Novel, Förlaget Oktober 2009

Tomas Espedal
Imot kunsten (notatbøkene) (Towards Art (the notebooks))
Novel, Gyldendal 2009

Sweden
Steve Sem-Sandberg
De fattiga i Łódź (The Destitutes of Lodz)
Novel, Albert Bonniers Förlag 2009

Ann Jäderlund
Vad hjälper det en människa om hon häller rent vatten över sig i alla sina dagar (What Does It Help A Person If She Pours Clean Water Over Herself For All Of Her Days)
Poetry collection, Albert Bonniers Förlag 2009

Faroe Islands
Gunnar Hoydal
Í havsins hjarta (In the Heart of the Sea)
Novel, Forlaget Sprotin 2007 (Danish translation by Jette Hoydal)

The winner will be announced 30 March 2010. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money down on Karl Ove Knausgård.

20 October 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Well, I’ve finally been broken down. I will be buying an e-reader—the horribly named Nook, which B&N announced today.

2 October 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The German Book Prize announced their shortlist a few weeks ago, and signandsight.com now has English excerpts available. Here’s the list:

  • Rainer Merkel: “Light Years Away” (Lichtjahre Entfernt), S. Fischer Verlag
  • Herta Müller: “Everything I Own I Carry With Me” (Atemschaukel), Suhrkamp Verlag
  • Norbert Scheuer: “The Rushing of the Weir” (Überm Rauschen), C.H.Beck Verlag
  • Katrin Schmidt: You’re Not Going to Die (Du Stirbst Nicht), Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag
  • Clemens J. Setz: “Frequencies” (Die Frequenzen), Residenz Verlag
  • Stephan Thome : “Border Walk” (Grenzgang), Suhrkamp Verlag

The winner will be announced in 10 days, on the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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

Last week they announced the shortlist for the prestigious NIKE Award, which will be awarded on October 4th. The shortlist:

  • The Flypaper Factory, Andrzej Bart (WAB)
    The writer narrates the imaginary Łódź trial of Chaim Rumkowski, chairman of the Judenrat in the Łódź Ghetto.
  • Bambino, Inga Iwasiów (Świat Książki)
    Iwasiów ponders on the identity of the German and Polish town and presents a panorama of the whole of People’s Poland, from World War II until 1981.
  • Gestures, Ignacy Karpowicz (Wydawnictwo Literackie)
    A new novel from the author of Niehalo [“Uncool”] and Cud [“The Miracle”]. Grzegorz arrives in his provincial native parts to see his ill, aging mother and realizes they have little in common.
  • Ostrogski Palace, Tomasz Piątek (WAB)
    The author himself says: “It’s a book about someone trying to disentangle himself from being a thing and returning to humanity, being reborn. Having a choice in life.” Personal memories are mingled here with essays and the fantasy of novels.
  • Queen of Tiramisu, Bohdan Sławiński (Jacek Santorski)
    The protagonist of Bohdan Sławiński’s novel is Peter, or rather Petey—a delicate, sensitive and tender person. The thoughtful boy gets involved with a mature, well-off married woman.
  • A Song About Dependences and Addictions, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki (Biuro Literackie)
    A new book of poetry from the author of the volumes Kamień pełen pokarmu [“A Stone Full of Nourishment”], Dzieje rodzin polskich [“A History of Polish Families”], winner of the Gdynia Literary Prize.
  • Turul Goulash, Krzysztof Varga (Czarne)
    Varga’s previous novel, Nagrobek z lastryko [“Terrazzo Tombstone”], was about Polish history and symbols; now, in this volume of essays, Varga turns to the Hungarians.

I’m disappointed that Jerzy Pilch’s March Polonia didn’t make the cut (he was on the longlist), but they seem to have a pretty good cross-section of work represented here.

Go to culture.pl for more information.

20 August 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The National Endowment for the Arts just announced its 2010 winners of the Literature Fellowships for Translation Projects. And there’s a few Open Letter connections this year.

First, Charlotte Mandell won a grant to translate Mathias Enard’s Zone (“The narrative unfolds during a train journey from Milan to Rome, and interweaves the narrator’s experiences in the war in Yugoslavia with other stories of war — from the Trojan War to World War II to present-day clashes.”), which we’ll be publishing next year.

And two Open Letter alumna won this year too: Ellen Elias-Bursac, who translated Nobody’s Home for us, won a grant to translate the first modern Croatian novel; and Martha Tennent, who translated Death in Spring, won a grant to translate some of Mercè Rodoreda’s short stories.

Congratulations to everyone who won. (And now to send off some emails! Oh Martha…)

via.

18 August 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco has (finally?) started a weblog. It’s called Two Words, and Scott Esposito, who, you know, has some experience in the field, is running it.

According to an e-mail they sent out yesterday:

We’re eager to make the blog a resource for people who love literature, especially the translated variety. Already there are a number of interesting articles up, and in the next few months we’ll be publishing interviews with authors and translators, original articles written just for Two Words, and news on international authors.

You’ll also find links to audio from our series of events in San Francisco. We’re working on making several years’ of audio available, and you can currently hear people like Edith Grossman, Robert Hass, and Yoko Tawada talk about literature and translation.

We’re really excited about the blog and all the great content that they’ll be putting up soon. Go check it out.

17 August 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

I don’t usually like to re-post things that have appeared on The Literary Review, mainly because I think our site and Michael’s have an audience Venn diagram that looks more like a single big circle than two overlapping ones, but this is too good to pass up.

This weekend, Adam Thirlwell had a piece in The Guardian about Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England:

Through his palavering narrators and theatrical characters, Hrabal discovered a crucial law of comedy: we are most funny precisely in proportion to how seriously we take ourselves – to how absolutely we have lost our sense of humour. A sense of humour, in Hrabal, is really a sense of proportion: the ability to diminish the things of this world to their true size. This, in the end, is the real way to be a hedonist: to be content with how small the world’s pleasures are, to be happy with humiliation. Ditie’s diminutive stature, which leads him to try to impose himself on the world in such grandiose ways, is really metaphysical. For everyone is miniature, but with such grandiose ambitions. So everyone is laughable.

If you haven’t read the book yet, you definitely should go pick up a copy right away. It’s incredible.

4 August 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian had a short overview of the life and work of Ivan Klima (Love and Garbage, Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light, too many others to mention) this weekend:

Incredibly, he returned to Prague after the 1968 uprising was put down:

Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. “I organised a reading the week after we got back,” he says. “I invited about 45 guests, which I’d worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, ‘Klima-balls’ as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things.”

After about a year, Klima’s friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. “So from that point,” Klima says, “we were known.”

Klima, Vaculik (we’re doing a reprint edition of his The Guinea Pigs next year), Havel, and Kundera all in one place, reading together. No doubt Skvorecky attended these readings too. That’s just too much.

Vaculik has also written a sort of memoir of that time, and of the years when they published each other’s work in samidzat editions, which is really fascinating. Just reading about all of these amazing writers working together in such close proximity is something.

Maybe we’ll publish that one too…

3 August 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Word is just starting to go around that PEN has named a new Executive Director. From PEN’s press release:

PEN American Center, the largest branch of International PEN — the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization — today announced the appointment of Steven L. Isenberg as Executive Director, effective immediately. For the past six years, Mr. Isenberg was a Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Texas (Austin). During his distinguished career, Mr. Isenberg has served in a variety of leadership roles in journalism, government, academia and law, including prior positions as interim President and Chairman of the Board of Adelphi University, Publisher of New York Newsday, Executive Vice President of the Los Angeles Times, and as Chief of Staff to New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay.

31 July 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

L’héritage documentaire de Fernando Pessoa, considéré comme le plus grand poète portugais du XXe siècle, a été classé “trésor national”, a annoncé jeudi le gouvernement portugais.

This looks to put an end to some controversy that was started last summer, when Pessoa’s heirs planned to auction off a large part of his correspondence.

According to the TV5 article:

Elle s’applique à la totalité de l’héritage de Fernando Pessoa, connu ou à découvrir, et interdit toute sortie du territoire national.

La procédure de classement de l’héritage de Pessoa, qui comprend des milliers de lettres, photographies, manuscrits et notes, avait été initiée en octobre 2008 par la Bibliothèque nationale, sur fond de polémique autour de plusieurs ventes aux enchères organisées par ses héritiers.

Essentially, his papers—those that are currently known and those that are yet to be discovered—are forbidden from leaving Portugal.

21 July 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Alane Salierno Mason, the founder of Words Without Borders, got interviewed at Big Think about literature in translation:


They have several other videos with her as well: on publishers (as they say, “A few stoic houses are carrying the torch for literature in translation.”), on the founding of Words Without Borders, and on Oprah.

via our good friend CK.

6 July 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Dubravka Ugresic’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg was recently published in the UK as a part of The Myths series—“a long-term global publishing project where some of the world’s most respected authors re-tell myths in a manner of their own choosing.”

She appeared on BBC Radio 4 recently to discuss the book.

The myth of Baba Yaga is one of the most famous stories in Russian and Eastern European mythology. Baba Yaga is a witch-like character who lives in a house on chicken feet and kidnaps young children. In her latest novel, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg the Croatian writer and academic Dubravka Ugresic tackles the myth through contemporary narratives, from the story of a women’s relationship with her mother, and the tale of three ageing women on holiday at a spa. Jane talks to Dubravka about her novel and leaving her homeland of the former Yugoslavia and moving to Amsterdam.

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.

30 June 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

We wanted to post this article about Alejandro Zambra in The Nation when it came out a few weeks ago, but we were in the middle of trying to sign Zambra up, so we wanted to wait until it was official.

Readers who consider Roberto Bolano the pole star of contemporary Chilean fiction will be jolted by Zambra’s little book. For though Zambra has been stamped as the Next Great Chilean Writer in many circles, he’s in no way Bolano’s heir. (But then, who is?) Where the heroes of Bolano’s novels are resolutely proletarian, Zambra’s characters are mostly downwardly mobile bourgeoisie. (At one point, Bonsai even refers to working-class beachgoers as lumpen, or riffraff.) Where Bolano wrought romantic detective stories showcasing the virtues of courage and integrity, Zambra’s protagonists lead mundane lives rife with small deceptions. It’s no surprise that Zambra says he reads Bolano very little. He doesn’t care much for Bolano’s literary hero Julio Cortazar, either.

(Chad just shuddered a little when he read those last two sentences)

Well, it’s now official. In 2010, Open Letter will be publishing Zambra’s second novel, The Private Lives of Trees, in a lovely translation by Megan McDowell. Bonsai was one of our favorite books last year, and we couldn’t be more excited to be publishing this new book.

A ways back, we published a short review of the book than Megan wrote:

Zambra’s second book, La vida privada de los arboles (The Private Lives of Trees) has not been published in English. This book is slightly longer and more intimate in its feel—we are brought deeper into the everyday tragedy of the main character, Julián. Julián is waiting for his wife, Verónica, to come home from her drawing class. This is the premise of the book, Julián’s ever more desperate waiting, the thoughts and memories that accompany his vigil: “the story goes on and Verónica hasn’t arrived, best to keep that in view, repeat it one and a thousand times: when she comes home the novel ends, the book continues until she comes home or until Julián is sure that she will never come home again.”

22 June 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The customer rep asked me to send every one of the books in my Amazon library to my iPhone. Most of them gave the message that they were sent but a number of them returned the message “Cannot be sent to selected device”.

“Oh that’s the problem,” he said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”

I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.

Keep reading. It gets worse.

1 June 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Mathias Enard’s Zone, which Open Letter is proud to be publishing next May, has won Le prix du Livre Inter 2009. The prize is awarded by France Inter, which is a public radio station in France (their podcasts are great if you’re trying to learn French!). It’s a unique prize: France Inter invites 24 listeners (among them students, illustrators, microbiology researchers, and former police captains from all over France) to serve as judges for the prize, and they’re helped along by an author. So it really is a “people’s prize”, but one in which the listeners serve as a jury, not just as one of thousands of voters.

If you want to know more about the history of the prize, and this year’s shortlist, click here.

So here’s the French press release, which I’ve done my best to render in English below (take it easy on me, I’m learning):

Le prix du Livre Inter 2009 a été attribué à “Zone” de Mathias Enard (éditions Actes Sud), une prouesse stylistique qui repose sur un longmonologue évoquant les guerres du bassin méditerranéen et des Balkans, aannoncé lundi France Inter.

Le jury du Livre Inter, composé de 24 auditeurs et présidé par l‘écrivain Marc Dugain (auteur notamment de “La chambre des officiers”), a élu Mathias Enard au troisième tour du scrutin, précise la radio publique dans un communiqué.

Troisième roman de Mathias Enard, “Zone” a été déjà récompensé par le prix Décembre 2008.

L’ouvrage est un “roman ferroviaire” construit sur un monologue de 500 pages composé d’une seule phrase entrecoupée de chapitres qui sont, eux, ponctués classiquement, explique France Inter.

Dans un train de nuit pour Rome, un ancien espion et ancien militaire fait défiler ses souvenirs de la zone où il exerça ses activités, le pourtour dela Méditerranée: guerres balkaniques, violences en Algérie, guerres du Proche-Orient…

Né en 1972 à Niort, Mathias Enard enseigne actuellement l’arabe à l’université de Barcelone. Son premier roman, “La perfection du tir”, paru en 2003 chez Actes Sud, a reçu le prix des Cinq continents de la francophonie. Il a ensuite publié “Remonter l’Orénoque” (Actes Sud) en 2005, puis un essai, “Bréviaire des artificiers” (Verticales) en 2007. Il anime plusieurs revues culturelles dont la revue “Inculte”. Mathias Enard a été pensionnaire de la Villa Médicis à Rome en 2005-2006.

The prix du Livre Inter 2009 was awarded to Zone by Mathias Enard (published by Actes Sud), a stylistic feat that relies on a long monologue to evoke the wars of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, France Inter announced Monday.

Livre Inter’s jury, which is composed of 24 listeners and is presided over by Marc Dugain (author of “Le chambre des officiers”), selected Mathias Enard after three rounds of voting, according to a press release from the station.

Enard’s third novel, Zone has already received the prix de Décembre 2008.

A ‘train novel’, the book consists of a 500 page monologue, composed as a single sentence, that is interrupted by chapters that are traditionally punctuated, explains France Inter.

On a night train to Rome, a retired spy and soldier reveals his memories of the places where he plied his trade, the perimeter of the Mediterranean: Balkan wars, violence in Algeria, wars in the near-East…

Born in 1972 in Niort, Mathias Enard teaches Arabic at the University of Barcelona. His first novel, “La perfection du tir”, was published by Actes Sud in 2003 and won the prix des Cinq continents de la francophonie. He followed this with “Remonter l’Orenoque in 2005, and with an essay, “Bréviaire des artificiers” in 2007. He has also published numerous cultural reviews in the journal “Inculte”. Mathias Enard was a resident of the Villa Médicis in Rome in 2005-2006.

If you have a little French, this video is pretty cool. It shows the final tallying of the votes that ended up with Zone winning, and then ‘by a miracle of transport’, Énard shows up an hour later to thank everyone for selecting his book. It’s not often that you get to see the inside of this process.


Prix du Livre Inter 2009
Uploaded by franceinter. – Watch the latest news videos.

This video is of the announcement of the prize on France Inter:


Mathias Enard – Prix du Livre Inter 2009
Uploaded by franceinter. – Watch the latest news videos.

27 May 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Issue 16 (16!) of The Quarterly Conversation is now available, and, as always, there’s a lot of great content, including an excerpt from one of our forthcoming titles, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel.

In addition to an interview with one of our favorite authors, Amanda Michalopolou (or, as Chad likes to call her, Amanda M.), there are too many interesting reviews to mention. A, small, sample:

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

What kind of dreamer opens a bookstore in a recession, gives it a nostalgic name that means nothing to most people under 40, and stocks it with travel guides and obscure foreign novels?

Meet David Del Vecchio, owner of Idlewild Books, who says business is thriving despite the odds against independent bookstores, the travel downturn and an economy that was already heading south when Idlewild opened in May 2008.

22 April 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Congratulations to our hero, Drenka Willen, who was just given the 2009 London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing.

Check this out from the LBF site:

Drenka Willen joined Harcourt as a translator and freelance editor in the nineteen-sixties. She took over day-to-day duties for the Helen & Kurt Wolff imprint in 1981. She is currently a Senior Editor. Among the authors and translators she has worked with are Günter Grass, Italo Calvino, Octavio Paz, Wisława Szymborska, José Saramago, Umberto Eco, Irving Howe, Charles Simic, Ryszard Kapuściński, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Yehuda Amichai, William Weaver, Ralph Manheim, Edward Gorey, Ralph Steadman, Harold Bloom, Wendy Wasserstein, George Konrád, Bohumil Hrabal, James Kelman, Edith Grossman, Margaret Jull Costa, Krishna Winston, Cees Nooteboom, Stanislaw Lem, Hugo Claus, Milovan Djilas, Breyten Breytenbach, Tomaž Šalamun, Danilo Kiš, Max Frisch, Margaret Drabble, Paweł Huelle, Jurek Becker, Clare Cavanagh, Stanisław Barańczak, Boris Pahor, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Andrzej Stasiuk, Marcel Beyer, Carsten Jensen, Lídia Jorge, Aleksandar Tišma, Julio Llamazares, Akira Yoshimura, Karin Fossum, Brigitte Hamann, André Brink, Stefan Chwin, Luis Sepúlveda, Paul Klebnikov, Pedro Rosa Mendes, Vladimir Voinovich, Jens Christian Grondahl, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Andrew Miller, Claire Messud, Robin Robertson, Michael Krüger, Mark Ford, Andrew O’Hagan, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Philip Schultz, and David Albahari.

Mindboggling.

22 April 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Next year we’re publishing the first of three novels by Juan José Saer, and Steve Dolph (the co-founder and co-editor, with Brandon Holmquest, of the translation journal and soon-to-be-book-publisher Calque) will be translating all three of the novels.

The other day Steve sent us a paragraph from his translation of Glosa, and he was kind enough to let me share it with you here (he even gave us a little context). It’s only a paragraph, but what a paragraph!

The following scene is from Glosa, by the Argentine novelist Juan José Saer (1937 – 2005), forthcoming from Open Letter next year. Winner of the Nadal Prize in 1987 and a student of the French new wave, Saer’s work was influenced by the nouveau roman writing of the late 1960s, a strong departure from the magic realist tradition culturally dominant in Argentina at the time. Closer in style and subject to writers like Julio Cortázar and Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Saer’s writing tends toward an interest in the isolation of urban life and psychology, particularly the psychology of violence. Originally published by Seix Barral in 1986, Glosa tracks two young men from Buenos Aires as they walk together across the city along the central street, the Avenida San Martín. In the passage below, the narrator, Angel Leto, is looking back at his friend, nicknamed the Mathematician, whose completely white outfit (including white moccasins) has up to this point been described with considerable irony, as he crosses the street to catch up with him after a brief separation.

He is present, clearly visible. For some reason he ignores and which he of course is not thinking about, Leto’s thoughts and memories are interrupted and he sees the street, the trees, the newspaper building, the cars, the Mathematician, the sky, the air, the morning, as a clear and animate unity from which he is slightly separated but completely present with, in any case at a fixed and necessary point in space, or in time, or matter, a fluid or nameless but no doubt optimal location, where all contradictions, without his having asked or even wanted it are, benevolently, erased. It’s a novel and pleasant state, but its novelty doesn’t reside in the appearance of something that didn’t exist previously but in a build-up of evidence in the preexistent, and the pleasure, in turn, doesn’t reside in a gratified desire but in some unknown source. It’s hard to say whether the clarity comes from Leto or from the objects, but suddenly, seeing the Mathematician advance upright and white from between the trunks of two cars separating in opposite directions Leto begins to see the group, the Mathematician included, not as cars or trees or houses or sky or human beings, but as a system of relations whose function is no doubt connected to the combination of disparate movements, the Mathematician forward, the cars each a different way, the motionless things changing aspect and location in relation to the moving things, everything no doubt in perfect and causal proportion so that living it or feeling it or however you’d call his state, but without thinking it, Leto experiences a sudden, blunt joy, in which he can’t distinguish the joy from what follows, sharpening his perception.

21 April 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The 28th Northern California Book Awards were held in San Francisco last weekend, and, in conjunction with the Center for the Art of Translation, they awarded a Translation Award “to bring attention to all the wonderful translations coming out of the Bay Area and to encourage local audiences to read more international literature.”

This year’s winner was Katherine Silver, for her translation of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness.

Here’s a list of the nominees:

  • The Old Man’s Verses by Ivan Divis, Translated from Czech by Deborah Garfinkle, Host Publications
  • Odes and Elegies by Friedrich Hölderlin, Translated from German by Nick Hoff, Wesleyan University Press
  • State of Exile by Cristina Peri Rossi, Translated from Spanish by Marilyn Buck, City Lights Publishers
  • Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, Translated from Spanish by Katherine Silver, New Directions
  • Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, Translated from Persian by Niloufar Talebi, North Atlantic Books

It’s a worthy list, and we’re not about to argue with the result. Senselessness is an incredible novel, and the translation is wonderful as well.

If you’d like a chance to meet Moya, and maybe get him to sign a copy of Senselessness for you, you can catch him at the PEN World Voices Festival next week. One of his events is with our own Jan Kjaerstad, which we couldn’t be more pleased about.

20 April 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

U of R’s own James Longenbach reviewed a new translation of Cavafy in the Times this weekend:

“A Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe.” With this sentence the novelist E. M. Forster introduced the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy to the English-speaking world in 1919. Since then, Cavafy’s distinctive tone — wistfully elegiac but resolutely dry-eyed — has captivated English-language poets from W. H. Auden to James Merrill to Louise Glück. Auden maintained that Cavafy’s tone seems always to “survive translation,” and Daniel Mendelsohn’s new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before. Together with “The Unfinished Poems” (the first English translation of poems Cavafy was still drafting when he died in 1933), this “Collected Poems” not only brings us closer to one of the great poets of the 20th century; it also reinvigorates our relationship to the English language.

2 April 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

They’ve just announced the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Ficton prize:

  • Voiceover by Céline Curiol, translated by Sam Richard from the French
  • Beijing Coma by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew from the Chinese
  • The Siege by Ismail Kadare, translated by David Bellos from the Albanian
  • The Armies by Evelio Rosero, translated by Anne McLean from the Spanish
  • The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean from the Spanish
  • Friendly Fire by A B Yehoshua, translated by Stuart Schoffman from the Hebrew
26 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Over at the PEN website they’ve announced the full schedule for this year’s World Voices festival. It’s hard to believe, but this year they’re celebrating the 5th anniversary of the festival. After the first one, I wondered if they’d ever be able to pull it off again—it’s an incredible amount of work, and they do it all with a handful of staff and an army of volunteers—but they really have turned it into a world-class event and it gets better every year.

If you wanted to meet one of our authors, you can see Jan Kjaerstad at a few events. He’ll be sharing the stage with Bernardo Atxaga, Michael Ondaatje, Antonio Tabucchi, Colm Tóibín, and Rick Moody, to name a few.

25 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

Argentina’s Andres Neuman on Monday was awarded Spain’s Alfaguara Novel Prize – considered among the most prestigious of its kind in the Spanish language – for “El viajero del siglo” (The Traveler of the Century).

Neuman, a novelist, poet and short story writer who was born in 1977 in Buenos Aires but has lived in the southern Spanish city of Granada since his youth, received a cash award of $175,000.

Neuman was also named to the Bogotá 39 a few years ago. I missed it the first time around, but the list (39 Latin American authors under 39) is looking pretty incredible a few years down the road: Andres Neuman, Alejandro Zambra, Junot Díaz, Antonio Úngar, Jorge Volpi… Wow.

(via: the saloon and indent)

23 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The new N+1 online book review supplement is up now, and it features another take on Bolaño, a review of the Charlotte Roche (out in English in a few weeks), and an overview of Per Petterson.

19 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

A new, to me, take on e-books from if:book:

[W]hat I’m getting at here is that the e-reader is being treated as though it is a viable vehicle for long-form writing, in a way that ignores the essential fact that long-form writing and reading is rooted in paper, and book manufacturing.

So, back to the ‘iPod for reading’ metaphor. Its proponents generally don’t dig deeper than ‘here is a small square device for storing and consuming lots of music’. The implication is that we can hop blithely from that to ‘here is a small square device for storing and consuming lots of text’. Regardless of stirring promises of e-books containing audio, video, fancy schmancy links and so on, the common understanding – and, indeed, the hope of the publishing industry – remains that this is a digital device for reading long-form texts. But this ignores the effect that iPods – or, more generally, mp3s – are having on how music is distributed. Once sold as albums, whether on LPs or CDs, music is increasingly sold by the micro-unit – a single song. A unit of content typically around 3 or 4 minutes long rather than 60-75 minutes.

It makes economic sense to sell LPs or CDs at a runtime of 60-odd minutes. It makes economic sense to sell books of around 80,000 words. But music for iPods can be sold song by song. So, extrapolating from this to an iPod for reading, what is the written equivalent of a single song? In a word (or 300), belles lettres.

18 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The latest Zoetrope: All Story is out now, and it’s dedicated to Latin American Fiction and was edited by Daniel Alarcón and Diego Trelles Paz.

The Spring 2009 edition is a special release dedicated to the best emerging writers in Latin America—all under the age of forty and most previously untranslated. We’re pleased to present the stories both in English and in their original languages, Spanish or Portuguese.

Best of all, there’s a story by Alejandro Zambra, whose Bonsai was one of my favorite novels last year.

Buy yourself a copy today.

(via: btf)

18 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Maureen Freely has an absolutely fascinating piece in the Washington Post, where she discusses translating Orhan Pamuk into English:

The details proved to be all-consuming, as the distance between Turkish and English is great. Turkish has no verb “to be” and no verb “to have.” It prefers the passive to the active voice and has one word for “he,” “she” and “it.” It is an agglutinative language, which means that root nouns often carry a string of 10 or more suffixes. Turkish also likes verbal nouns (the “doing of,” the “having been done unto”) and because you do not know the verb until the end of the sentence, you often read four, five or six clauses without knowing how they are connected.
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Add to that the Language Revolution, which began in the 1930s with the aim of replacing all words of Arabic and Persian origin, at the time 60 percent of the vocabulary. Though some of those words remain, the language has changed so much that the speeches of Ataturk, the republic’s founding father, have had to be retranslated twice. Turkish allows for complex constructions that (to paraphrase the poet Murat Nemet-Nejat) can catch elegant thoughts in the act of unfolding, but to replicate those structures in English is to weave a knotted web in which each clause strangles the one preceding it, while the shortage of root nouns encourages an overuse of basic words and/or wild guesses as to which of 20 or so English words might reflect the writer’s intentions.

Translators are not paid enough money, clearly. This just sounds like such an intense experience. And this:

As we wandered together through the world of the book, he seemed to be opening doors to reveal spaces never before shown to an outsider. It was not the translator but the shadow novelist in me who treasured these privileged tours. But there is, perhaps, a shadow novelist in every dedicated translator. Though she must serve the text, she can recreate the author’s voice only if she gets so close to the heart of the novel that she can convince herself it briefly answers to hers.

Great stuff. Go read the article.

17 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

We posted Karl Pohrt’s letter about the state of Shaman Drum last month, and it looks like his call for help is being answered. According to PW:

In response to two open letters from bookseller Karl Pohrt to the Ann Arbor community, a loose coalition of booklovers is coming together to save Shaman Drum bookstore from closing its doors. In a letter sent out to Shaman Drum’s e-mail list Friday and discussed on the front page of the Ann Arbor News the next day, University of Michigan English professor Julie Ellison warns that the 29-year-old booktore is “dying.” Ellison and the letter’s co-signers, who include former poet laureates Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky, bookseller Richard Howorth of Square Books in Oxford, Miss., plus 40 Ann Arbor residents, propose solutions meant to turn the bookstore into what she calls a “humanities commons.”

Ellison’s proposals include the University of Michigan changing its current textbook policy to include a statement on the benefits of buying textbooks from local booksellers; individuals buying shares in the bookstore’s nonprofit arm, the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center; the University of Michigan Humanities Center making space available for arts center classes; the university using the bookstore as a site for teaching students about consumer behavior in the digital age; and students and faculty in the university’s Nonprofit and public Management Center and the School of Information assisting the bookstore in developing a new business model and writing grants to support it.

We really hope some good comes out of all of this, and that they find a way to keep Shaman Drum alive.

17 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

After a dip in the fall, the number of books sold in France rose 2 percent in December from a year earlier and 2.4 percent in January, according to Livres Hebdo, a trade publication.

The trend has been similar in Germany, where the number of books sold rose 2.3 percent in January, according to the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, a trade organization. Analysts say many other European markets have also shown gains.

2 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

If:book has a really cool article on something that I hadn’t yet noticed (not having a kindle, a sony reader, or an iphone): all of the text on these devices is fully justified.

if a computer is going to hyphenate something, it needs to know what language the text is in. This is a job for metadata: electronic books could have an indicator of what language they’re in, and the reader application could hyphenate automatically. But that won’t always help: in the text on the Kindle screen, for example, der Depperte isn’t English and wouldn’t be recognized as such. A human compositor could catch that; a computer wouldn’t guess, and would have to default to not breaking it. The same problem will happen with proper names.

I can see why this is the case. It’s a difficult problem to solve, so, in that great tradition of computer programming, a solution becomes the solution because the problem-solvers aren’t end users themselves. I don’t think these e-book readers will take off until someone seriously studies the problems of reading on these things and takes the time and effort to offer some thoughtful solutions.

27 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

This is a few days old already, but our friends at Europa Editions had a nice write up in the Times:

Some larger publishers are starting to envy Europa’s selection and its frankly retro publishing model. Mr. Carroll “finds things, picks things up for a little bit of money and makes a lot out of them,” said Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “Most of publishing was once that way. It wasn’t about big money so much. He’s sort of preserving the old values of it’s-all-about-the-book and connecting the book with readers.”

(nodding)

25 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has (finally!) been announced. Here you go:

  • Voice Over by Céline Curiol (trans. Sam Richard)
  • A Blessed Child by Linn Ullman (trans. Sarah Death)
  • The Blue Fox by Sjon (trans. Victoria Cribb)
  • Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehoshua (trans. Stuart Schoffman)
  • My Father’s Wives by José Eduardo Agualusa (trans. Daniel Hahn)
  • The White King by Gyorgy Dragoman (trans. Paul Olchvary)
  • The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (trans. Anne McLeane)
  • Homesick by Eshkol Nevo (trans. Sondra Silverstein)
  • Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (trans. Flora Drew)
  • The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa (trans Stephen Snyder)
  • Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad (trans. Sverre Lyngstad)
  • The Director by Alexander Ahndoril (trans. Sarah Death)
  • The Armies by Euelio Rosero (trans. Anne McLean)
  • How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić‘ (trans. Anthea Bell)
  • The Siege by Ismail Kadare (trans. David Bellos, from the French of Jusuf Vrioni)
  • Night Work by Thomas Glavinic (trans. John Brownjohn)

There’s only two points of contact with the Best Translated Book Award longlist, Celine Curiol’s Voice Over (which made our shortlist) and perennial Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlister, and sometime prizewinner, José Eduardo Agualusa, whose Book of Chameleons we nominated—My Father’s Wives has yet to find an American publisher, I think.

Overall, it’s a strong list, and if you want more info we have reviews of a few of the books from the longlist:

Only two! Looks like we have some work to do.

25 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

We’re publishing Mathias Énard’s Zone next year, and I couldn’t be more excited. There’s a review of it up now at The Quarterly Conversation, and while it’s not a wholly positive review, the review just makes me happier to be publishing it. Zone is definitely an Open Letter book:

Zone doesn’t seduce so much as it makes its reader uncomfortable and sets her mind to work. In Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker wrote an alternative history of World War II that led the reader to disturbing what-ifs. Énard too writes an alternative history of his zone: through the mind of Francis Servain, he makes us see what we tend to forget and, sometimes, what lies ahead. Zone is history of literature as well as history of the Mediterranean, although there is no lesson or philosophy behind all this. It’s an admission of human failure. In spite of the book’s many weaknesses it is a powerful read, a novel for the ages, because what is inside will probably never be out of date and will always somewhat enlighten the reader’s view of the times she lives in. (It remains to be seen whether it will work on an American reader, one likely much less familiar with most of what happens in the Mediterranean zone.) Francis is sure his journey is toward the end of the world, and Zone is an end of the world novel that knows precisely that this is actually not the end of the world. This might very well be the crudest joke, the most gruesome story narrated here by Mathias Énard: it is not over.

24 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

As I don’t have the time, I want to respond very briefly to Michiko Kakutani’s review of The Kindly Ones. This is the most inept, ill-perceiving reviews of the novel I can imagine (though one other runs it close). “Aue is clearly a deranged creature,” she writes “and his madness turns his story into a voyeuristic spectacle”. Well, that is true only to the extent to which one ignores how Aue’s fall between life and death determines the narrative and how we should thereby read it. But, of course, Kakutani speaks from a position of moral and psychological authority. As someone employed by a newspaper that manufactured consent for invasions of sovereign nations with the consequent death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, she has nothing in common with Max Aue. Clearly.

Although he may be making Michiko and Michael’s argument for them—it’d be easier to feel we are all a little Max Aue if Max Aue was a little more like us—he at least has helped bump the book back up my list a bit. And I’m really looking forward to what he has to say when he has some more time.

Maybe I’ll start in on it tonight.

24 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In case you’re dying for more Kindle news, the New York Times has finally run their review:

But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub. You’d have to buy an awful lot of $10 best sellers to recoup the purchase price. If Amazon goes under or abandons the Kindle, you lose your entire library. And you can’t pass on or sell an e-book after you’ve read it.

Another group of naysayers claims that the Kindle has missed its window. E-book programs are thriving on the far more portable (and far more popular) iPhones and iPod Touches. Surely smartphones, which already serve as cameras, calculators and Web browsers, will become the dominant e-book readers as well.

The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything. E-book readers won’t replace books. The iPhone won’t replace e-book readers. Everything just splinters. They will all thrive, serving their respective audiences.

It may be true that everything splinters, but book people are worried about what size their splinter will turn out to be.

24 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Kakutani takes her shot at Littell’s monster:

No doubt the author intends such remarks to convey the horrors of the Holocaust, but “The Kindly Ones” instead reads like a pointless compilation of atrocities and anti-Semitic remarks, pointlessly combined with a gross collection of sexual fantasies.

After this review, and Michael’s, The Kindly Ones is slowly working it’s way toward the bottom of our reading pile.

13 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Laila Lalami reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass in The National

“In Africa, when an old person dies, a library burns.”

When the Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampâté Bâ uttered these words at a Unesco assembly in 1960, he was attempting to draw attention to Africa’s tradition of oral storytelling. Little did he know that his aphorism would turn into one of the most persistent clichés about the continent, one that unfortunately reinforced the erroneous idea that there was no tradition of written literature in Africa prior to European colonialism. Early on in Alain Mabanckou’s new novel Broken Glass (to be published this month in translation from French to English), the proprietor of a seedy bar in Brazzaville, who is referred to only as Stubborn Snail, hears the slogan and derisively responds that it “depends which old person, don’t talk crap, I only trust what’s written down.”

13 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

For those of you who read French, the blog at the Nouvel Observateur has a really cool piece about the history of Gallimard that was written by Antoine Gallimard—the grandson of the founder of Gallimard, Gaston Gallimard, and the company’s current Président et Directeur Général [CEO]:

Un jour, Daniel Pennac a été approché par une maison concurrente. Et l‘éditeur en question lui dit: «Pourquoi restez-vous chez Gallimard? Tout le monde s’en va: Bianciotti, Queffélec» Pennac répond: «Quoi? Tout le monde s’en va? J’aurais donc Gallimard pour moi tout seul? Et vous voudriez que je parte?»

[My bad translation: One day, Daniel Pennac was approached by another publisher. The editor in question said to him: “Why are you staying at Gallimard? Everyone leaves there: Biancotti, Queffélec…” Pennac responded: “What? Everyone leaves Gallimard? So I’ll have them all to myself? And you want me to leave?”]

11 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen has a great article about reading and ‘digital literacy’.

The Kindle will only serve to worsen that concentration deficit, for when you use a Kindle, you are not merely a reader—you are also a consumer. Indeed, everything about the device is intended to keep you in a posture of consumption. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has admitted, the Kindle “isn’t a device, it’s a service.”

In this sense it is a metaphor for the experience of reading in the twenty-first century. Like so many things we idolize today, it is extraordinarily convenient, technologically sophisticated, consumption-oriented, sterile, and distracting. The Kindle also encourages a kind of utopianism about instant gratification, and a confusion of needs and wants. Do we really need Dickens on demand? Part of the gratification for first readers of Dickens was rooted in the very anticipation they felt waiting for the next installment of his serialized novels—as illustrated by the story of Americans lining up at the docks in New York to learn the fate of Little Nell. The wait served a purpose: in the interval between finishing one installment and getting the next, readers had time to think about the characters and ponder their motives and actions. They had time to connect to the story.

We are so eager to explore what these new devices do—particularly what they do better than the printed book—that we ignore the more rudimentary but important human questions: the tactile pleasures of the printed page versus the screen; the new risks of distraction posed by a device with a wireless Internet connection; the difference between reading a book in two-page spreads and reading a story on one flashing screen-display after another. Kindle and other e-readers are marvelous technologies of convenience, but they are no replacement for the book.

I still haven’t really organized my thoughts about e-books, digital reading, etc., but the more you read about it the more fundamental, and complex, the debate seems.

11 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In case your reading list isn’t long enough, Scott asked his readers to put together a list of great books/authors from the former empire:

A couple weeks back I noted that a a great city (Vienna) surrounded by a great empire (Austria-Hungary) deserved great literature. I started making a list of this literature, and readers had no trouble filling in the blanks for me.

So now I present the revised list of great literature of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

4 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

One of the best technology websites around, Ars Technica, takes a look at e-books. What’s most interesting to me about this particular article is that it was written by someone, John Siracusa, who was there at the very beginning of e-books.

I honestly can’t remember the first e-book I read on its 160×160-pixel screen. Like I said, there was no blinding flash, no instant conversion. What happened instead is that I just put another e-book on it when I finished with the first. Because, again, what else was I going to do with it? (Yes, I know, it does other things!)

At a certain point, I realized I’d read my last five or six books on this thing. Without noticing, I’d gone off paper books entirely. Only then did I take the time to examine what had happened. Why was reading off of this tiny PDA not just tolerable, but (apparently) satisfying enough to keep me from returning to paper books?

Here’s what I came up with. First, I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been. (Incidentally, this also lead to a vast expansion of the definition of “an opportunity to read.”) Second, I could read in the dark next to my sleeping wife without disturbing her with bright lights and page-turning noises. (The tan-on-black reader color theme was affectionally known as “wife mode” at Peanut Press.) Third, I was loathe to give up the ability to tap any word I didn’t understand and get its dictionary definition.

That’s pretty much it. Of all the virtues of e-books, these were the ones that sealed the deal for me, personally. Your list may be different. Or maybe you’ll never be satisfied by reading anything other than a paper book. All I ask is that you give it an honest try.

As someone who is inordinately interested in technology, e-books should be an easy sell for me, and yet I still have yet to read an entire book online, or on an e-book reader, or on a PDA/smartphone. I even had a Handspring Visor for a while, and I used to (if I’m remembering correctly) download articles from the NYTimes to it. I think I even put some e-books on it, but I never did read more than a few screenfuls of text on it.

While I agree with much of what Mr. Siracusa has to say (the success of the e-book is inevitable), he doesn’t seem to think the form factor from these devices is all that important, arguing that people already are accustomed to reading lots of text online in sub-optimal conditions (see the Internets).

I’ll say it again: people will read text off screens. The optical superiority of paper is still very real, but also irrelevant. The minimum quality threshold for extended reading was passed a long, long time ago.

However, I think that THE crucial issue for e-books is the form factor of the device that you’ll be reading the book from and the way the software on that device works. Once that gets sorted out, once people have access to a device that solves the problem of text-presentation as well as physical books do, the rest of the problems that surround e-books—how to make money off of them, DRM, distribution, etc.—will fall away quickly. It wasn’t the MP3, or Napster, or iTunes that spelled the end of the CD and DRM; it was the iPod.

And I’m betting that e-book device won’t be the Kindle Part Deux.

For an author’s perspective on e-books, read this

2 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Lorin Stein, the American editor of Bolaño’s 2666, was on NPR last week. They broadcast a discussion he led about 2666 at Politics and Prose in Wasington, D.C.

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

Our own Charlotte Mandell (she’s doing Zone for us) is interviewed on Maitresse:

The translator Charlotte Mandell did the heavy lifting for two of the more exciting imports from France: this year’s The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell, and next year’s Zone, by Mathias Enard. Mandell, who lives in Upstate New York, is also the virtuoso translator behind Proust’s The Lemoine Affair, a collection of literary parodies of writers like Balzac, Flaubert, the Goncourt Brothers, and Saint-Simon.

....

M: Were there any particular challenges to translating The Kindly Ones? What about Zone?

With The Kindly Ones, the main challenge was the time constraint: I was working against a deadline, so I had to finish the translation in about nine months. That’s not a lot of time for a thousand-page novel! In way, though, that very urgency worked for me, since I just had to dive into it and try to inhabit Max’s voice, and I could put all other projects aside for those nine months. With Zone, the challenge is to reproduce the style of the narrator’s stream-of-consciousness: the novel is written around one long sentence, and I need to keep the reader’s undivided attention in English in the same way that the French does – it’s a sort of breathless, urgent, spontaneous, but also deeply erudite style that works wonderfully well in the original. I hope I can maintain that momentum in English – when you’re reading it you feel as if you’re on the train with the narrator, being pulled inexorably toward some unknown goal.

via RSB

14 January 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

The Bureaucartic Imagination has an interesting post on the Bolaño hype in the States. It also touches on one of the ‘big problems’ of literature in translation:

Moreover, his books are often about the mundane details of very specific and frankly petty literary disputes and details that must make little sense to, say, readers of The New Yorker, which just published his short story “Meeting with Enrique Linh,” wherein a first person narrator named Roberto Bolaño spills out a multi-page, unparagraphed dream in which he hangs out with the Chilean poet Enrique Linh in a bar.

Most American poets, let alone subscribers to The New Yorker, don’t know who Enrique Linh is, and I’m certain that neither group has any clue who Bertoni, Maquieira, Gonzalo Muñoz, Martínez, and Rodrigo Lira; Linh identifies these writers, along with the narrator, as “the six tigers of Chilean poetry in the year 2000.” Far from having universal appeal, this story speaks to a very particular plight, namely, that of “young poets with no support…who’d been shut out by the new center-left government and didn’t have any backing or patronage.”

Nothing much happens in “Meeting with Enrique Linh.” The Bolaño character talks to Linh at the bar then goes out into the street where he meets a “hit man” named “Jara,” who looks like a “fifties gangster.” There is no explanation in the story of who Jara is, so most New Yorker readers won’t understand the reference to Victor Jara, the Chilean poet and folk-singer who was brutally murdered after the 1973 coup.

Please beware before you click that link: the site is blood red with black type, and after looking at it for a few seconds your head will feel like it’s about to explode. Press on. Your head won’t explode. But you will be left with a bit of a headache.

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

We’re really proud of our cover designs, which have thus far all been done by the super-talented Milan Bozic, and we’ve been waiting for one of the book cover blogs to notice them. Finally, prèmier de couverture has a little write-up about Milan’s designs for our Jan Kjaerstad books.

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

Croatian Crescent comments on the literary fiction sales scene in Croatia.

The bestselling book of 2008, Naš čovjek na terenu, written by Robert Perišić, sold 1904 copies. Only ten books broke the magic number of 1000 copies. Not more than 484 buyers were needed to make Drago Britvić the 20th best selling domestic author of Croatia. Is it safe to say that the Croatian literary scene is dead? Even a world famous Croatian author as Slavenka Drakulić sold no more than 1601 copies of her Frida ili o boli (translated as Frida’s bed) which won her the second place on the ranking. I wonder if the situation in other ex-Yugoslav republics is better or worse.

They also mention the The Secret sold more than 20,000 copies in Croatian translation, which helps for scale maybe. I have no comment. I was just astounded by the numbers.

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.

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

Applications for grants from the PEN Translation Fund are due one week from today. Grants range from $2,000 to $10,000 and support the translation of book-length works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or drama that have not previously appeared in English or have appeared only in an egregiously flawed translation.

In addition to financial assistance, grants from the PEN Translation Fund provide a good bit of publicity: recognition by the Fund has led on numerous occasions to a publishing contract. Translations supported by PEN grants have been excerpted in The New Yorker, Granta, The Paris Review— and, of course, in PEN America. Making Histories included a great piece from Theremin, a play by Petr Zelenka translated by Stepan Simek.

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

Below is a recording of Bragi Ólafsson reading from The Pets and having a conversation with Lytton Smith (who we hope will be translating Bragi’s next book The Ambassadors for us) as a part of the Reading the World Conversation Series on October 7th, 2008. We’ll be announcing the spring line-up for the Series soon!


Bragi Olafsson reads from The Pets from Open Letter Books on Vimeo.

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

Polish Writing has an interview with the latest NIKE prizewinner, Olga Tokarczuk.

“Runners” tells the story of people you have met while travelling: in air terminals, stations, in foreign towns. You are like a medium, who brings together these stories in a coherent form.

I often feel like that. The role suits me: an ear and an eye, someone undefined, without gender, without an age. Someone who is not too distinct, and that’s why the world trusts them. When you withdraw from your own “I”, you start to see and hear more. When you are too distinct, you see the world through your own filters, which is not bad either, just different.

22 December 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

How many books are in the Library of Babel?

251,312,000

via 3qd.

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

This time of the year the Words Without Borders staff sits around the Words Without Borders fireplace with our mugs of hot toddy, chatting about the books we’ve been reading. Into the wee hours on one such night, Joshua said, “Hey, why don’t we mention some of our favorites from the year on the blog?” And so here it is, our list along with a brief comment on each.

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

The Ukrainians and the Russians both claim Bulgakov as one of their own:

The identity crisis arises it seems because although Bulgakov was born in what is now Ukraine’s capital, a city he immortalized in his first novel The White Guard, the playwright and novelist was ethnically Russian, wrote in Russian and moved to Moscow when he was 21. So, while in a recent poll of Russians, the author of The Master and the Margharita was named the country’s second greatest writer, in similar poll in Ukraine, he was claimed as Ukraine’s third best playwright. The mixed opinions on nationality aren’t any less muddy elsewhere in the world of letters. Take, for example, Bernard Shaw – described as an Irish dramatist despite living in England most of his life – or Polish-born Tom Stoppard, who is nearly always referred to as a British playwright.

I don’t know what occasioned this little article in the Guardian, but what occasioned my post about the article is Marian Schwartz’s excellent new translation of The White Guard, which one should definitely buy.

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!

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

To help promote the new Pawell Huelle book, The Last Supper, that’s forthcoming from Serpent’s Tail, Polish Writing has translated and posted a two-part interview (I, II) with Huelle which originally appeared in Gazeta Wyborcza:

Violetta Szostak: I’m rather nervous about this interview…

Paweł Huelle: Why should you be nervous, I should be nervous, it’s me they would like to kill…

Because of this book?

It’s not as bad as that!

...

I have written a contemporary novel. Maybe partly because critics were always saying that my novels are escapist, I thought: OK, now I will present you with a contemporary novel ‘par excellence’.

And references to living people? This is an approach that to different degrees has been used by many writers before me. One can give as an example ‘The Wedding’ by Wyspianski – which doesn’t mean I am comparing myself to Wyspianski!

The book is written fairly bluntly, because I think that we find ourselves in a moment of crisis, linked with postmodernism. We’ve lost our goals, our centre; we have fallen off the right track, and can’t create a new one. I didn’t originate this diagnosis, but I’m a participant in this crisis, it’s happened to me, so I am reacting and asking some questions. My book is fairly pessimistic, it doesn’t give a recipe to overcome this situation. I think that it is necessary to make oneself conscious of it, because a large number of us don’t realise that we are in such a difficult, strange situation.

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

Siddhartha Deb reviews Elias Khoury’s Yalo for The Nation:

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

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

In the socio-cultural milieu of his native Ukraine, Yuri Andrukhovych has achieved the kind of status that demands that his name be followed by “himself” every time it shows up in print. His previous novels Recreations and Moscoviad are two important reasons for this recognition, and Twelve Loops is yet another work that assert Andrukhovych’s authority – and talent – as Ukraine’s national mythmaker.

Twelve Loops features some familiar topography: readers will recall Chrotopil’, the setting of Recreations, and, of course, L’viv, the city at the center of Andrukhovych’s fictional universe. In Twelve Loops L’viv attracts two artists, the Austrian photographer Karl-Joseph Zumbrunnen and, sixty years earlier, the Lemko poet Bohdan-Igor Antonych, with lethal and inexplicable magnetism.

Yes, Lviv – the city of police brass orchestras, provincial community meetings, public coffee-houses and coop tearooms, the city with an enormous jail right on the main street, very near the poet’s licentious dwelling . It is not difficult to distinguish in this city two main segments appealing to Antonych.

The first is the L’viv subterranean, buried and flooded, with dead-ended tunnels and corridors, secret half-covered labyrinths and a walled-in river against whose shores herds of blinded fish rub fitfully, pushing from underneath at buildings and cracking the city’s dinted asphalt shell.

The second is the proletarian L’viv, perhaps even the lumpen L’viv, all those terribly lit and impassable spring-autumn suburbs with all manner of mines, tanneries, refineries and breweries, with ubiquitous dirty street markets and vendor carts and limousines, fallen apart and swallowed forever by the street mud…

When Zumbrunnen comes to Ukraine at the end of the century, this L’viv – and Antonych – are only memories, but memories, echoes, reflections, things bygone are, in Andukhovych’s fiction, omniscient, stamped onto the characters’ souls and woven into their dreams. Zumbrunnen himself is not merely a foreign photographer who, with the Westerner’s other-worldly sharp and somewhat misguided judgement, observes Ukraine’s transition from the post-Soviet chaos into post-chaotic inertia. He is also a descendant of a forgotten Austro-Hungarian imperial forester who managed the Carpathian woods a few generations ago. He is also, in the grand scheme of the novel, a man with the power to fulfill a prophecy for an exiled Gypsy king. Both facts – the distant stirring of the ancestor’s genes and the words of a prophecy about someone he’s never met – have very real bearing on Zumbrunnen’s fate, because Andrukhovych’s world is old, layered, and infinitely connected.

How this connectedness is revealed to us, how casually we overlook it, and what price we might have to pay for our ignorance are all themes of this novel. Karl-Joseph Zumbrunnen develops an affair with his Ukrainian interpreter, Roma Voronych, whose husband, the writer Arthur Pepa, is going through a midlife crisis. All three are invited by a mysterious benefactor to attend a conference at an inn high in the mountains. Roma’s eighteen-year-old daughter, a professor of literature, a fashionable clip-maker, and two strippers, contracted by the same benefactor, also come. Once this group is delivered to the isolated mountain-top inn, whose own walls are swathed in mysterious and tragic history, it is only natural that super-natural things should begin to happen. For instance, Roma’s long-dead first husband comes to claim her body.

It is to the author’s great credit that the reader follows effortlessly as the characters shuffle and stumble between their habitual reality and the magical world that spills out of their dreams and drunken hallucinations. When is Zumbrunnen closer to the truth, we are asked – when he writes to his friends in Austria that “there is nothing sweeter than the sense of gradually inhabiting the Other. One day it occurs to you that indeed, without exagerration, you could live here. And there is nothing impossible, if the next day you want to be and live only here,” or when he realizes that “it was horror… to sit in this oscillating dark pit, in this overfried grinding mixture of smells, among these strange people, to listen to them howl along with the tape-player”? When he camps and swims in green heated-through mountain rivers or when he dreams he is one those blind fish locked under the Opera Theater in L’viv? Or both?

Of course Twelve Loops is a telling of myth. The reader will have both the pleasure of wonder and the pleasure of recognition for myths are universal and this one is no exception.

Twelve Loops by Yuri Andrukhovych
Dvanadtsat’ Obruchiv
Kyiv: Krytyka, 2004.

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

Over at the World Literature Forum, Stewart points out that the longlist for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction has been announced.

The longlist of 16 books was chosen from 121 eligible entries and are as follows (in alphabetical order);

  • The Bottle and the Genie, Mohammad Abu Maatouk
  • The Tobacco Guard, Ali Badr
  • Hunger, Mohammad Al Bsati,
  • The Unfaithful Translator, Fawaz Haddad
  • The Man From Andalucia, Salem Hameesh
  • Prayer For The Family, Renée Hayek
  • Confessions, Rabih Jaber
  • Platoon Of Ruin, Abdel Kareem Jouaitly,
  • The American Granddaughter, Inaam Kachachi
  • The Tumour, Ibrahim Al Koni,
  • Black Taste, Black Odour, Ali Al Muqri
  • Time Of White Horses, Ibrahim Nasrallah
  • The Scents Of Marie-Claire, Al Habib Salmi
  • Intensive Care, Izzedin Shukri
  • Ma’ Al Sama’, Yehya Yekhlef
  • Beelzebub, Yussef Zeydan

The longlist has been selected by a panel of five judges from Europe and the Arab World. As is customary with the prize, the 2009 judges will be announced at the same time as the shortlist, on 10 December 2008.

They’ll announce the winner on March 6th, 2009, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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

Our latest review is of Arto Paasilinna’s The Howling Miller, which was recently published by Canongate.

The Howling Miller tells the story of Gunnar Huttunen, a mysterious miller who shows up in the remote northern Finnish province of Lapland and buys and repairs a run-down mill that the locals had all but abandoned. A giant of a man, Gunnar Huttunen suffers from a sort of social cluelessness, of the kind that might be diagnosed as a mild case of Aspergers; he’s outwardly normal, but he doesn’t always understand the social world that surrounds him, and he tends to make earnest and obvious mistakes. Prone to comic imitations of wildlife, especially of wolves, and of the local farmers and their wives, Huttunen’s antics are first welcomed in the small village, until his darker urges, storming off to the woods mid-performance and howling like the most forlorn wolf, for example, began to take over.

Click here for the rest.

29 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Novelist and critic Dubravka Ugresic talks to World Books editor Bill Marx about her latest collection of essays, “Nobody’s Home,” which trains a wryly spiky eye to a number of subjects, from the plight of public intellectuals to the fluid nature of cultural identity in the age of globalization.

28 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Another late post by us—I think we’ll be catching up for the next month—but congratulations to Paper Republic:

We are delighted to announce that Paper Republic has received a substantial grant from Arts Council England to develop the website and to fund associated activities. Our aim is to re-design the site to provide more services both to publishers and agents who are considering publishing a particular work in English, and to translators who are looking for guidance in getting a favourite work published. Resources pages will provide useful information for both groups, from translation rights to translation rates.

We also want to expand the books database: if you read Chinese (whether or not you are a translator) and have a favourite book which has not yet been translated, please write and tell us about it. Include name (in Chinese with English translation), author, publisher and date of publication. Then please add a personal comment about the book, and a short paragraph summarising the story. Your contribution can be signed or unsigned, as you choose.

If you don’t subscribe to their feed, I suggest you do so forthwith.

24 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A few days age we wrote about the German Book Prize Winner, Uwe Tellkamp’s Der Turm, and lamented the fact that there wouldn’t be much interest in the 1000+ page book from American or British publishers.

Well, a little birdie tells me that we were quite mistaken and that Suhrkamp is fielding a “huge wave of calls and requests from the UK” for the book.

Let’s hope that something comes of it!

If you’d like to find out more about Tellekamp, or Der Turm, click here to download a PDF about the book from the current New Books In German issue.

23 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

There are 7,000 languages spoken in the world. This, argues linguist K David Harrison, represents the greatest repository of human knowledge ever assembled – but it’s rapidly eroding, and this will be terrible. We’re not only losing information, but we’re losing ways of understanding the world.

Why are they going extinct? Where? And why does it matter?

22 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Omnivoracious, Amazon.com’s weblog, has an interview with Bragi Ólafsson about The Pets, lies, and his new book:

Amazon.com: Tell me more about that, what that was like.

BÓ: Most of the time it was very stupid questions and silly answers. That’s what the pop press is basically about. Playing around. Because there isn’t so much to talk about. And, of course, we had to talk about Iceland because people were curious about the music scene in Iceland and how cold it is in Iceland. We told a lot of lies about Iceland because we were in the position to make fun of the whole thing, instead of just giving dry answers to these questions. And, I think Björk still does that sometimes. She gives really strange facts about our country.

Amazon.com: Do you remember any of your lies?

BÓ: Well, it was about what the food is or the drinks or some extremities. Probably something about drinking, because Iceland, like Finland, has a reputation for being big drinkers. So we tended to exaggerate that a bit. Here’s a story about playing with the media: Once, when in Denmark the government passed the laws on gay marriage—it would have been ’89 or ’90—they were the first European country to allow gay persons to get married. Me and the main singer of the Sugar Cubes, we sent out a press release to the press saying that we had gotten married in Denmark and had gone on our honeymoon in Sweden, and the press believed it. Every single newspaper. It was on the front page of Liberation in France.

——-

BÓ: The book I’m writing now is about this character’s father, who is approaching 70 and his friend—a film director and a playwright, but they’ve never had the opportunity to make a film or have a play staged. But all of a sudden they got the opportunity, because an old friend of theirs, who’s a pharmacist, gives them money to start making a picture. So it’s about that, and it’s about other things. At the same time, one of these characters, his father dies and he lives in Hull, it’s an old fishing port in England, and they had to go to Hull to collect his inheritance. As usual in my books, it’s two stories that come together somehow.

If I would have to explain what these books are about, I would say it’s about how to write, how to write a fiction. Because what interests me most in writing fiction is the view, how you see the world, from what point of view. And so, this story I’m writing now is told by a female character, who knows these characters. She’s not really a part of the story, but she’s somehow connected to it. She both knows everything about these characters and she knows nothing. It’s the first time I’ve used a female protagonist.

22 October 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

My friend Bogdan from Polirom pointed me to this excellent new site, Contemporary Romanian Writers. They sum it up nicely:

www.romanianwriters.ro is now online. It offers publishers from all over the world English-language presentations of the contemporary Romanian writers published by Polirom and Cartea Românească, including detailed information (biographies, book presentations, excerpts from books, reviews published in the press).

In continual development and periodically updated, the site will highlight works by more than eighty contemporary Romanian writers.

If you’re curious about Romanian writing, this is a fabulous resource. And it’s good to see more and more countries/publishers take on these kinds of projects. They’re unbelievably helpful for people like us, especially, and anyone else who wants to expand their knowledge about what’s going on in literature.

If I were you, I’d start with Dan Sociu.

22 September 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

South African writer, painter, and political activist Breyten Breytenbach talks to World Books editor Bill Marx about what his new book, “All One Horse.” says about his schizophrenic creative career. Breytenbach also reads a selection from the volume.

Bryten Brytenbach will be appearing with Dubravka Ugresic at the 92nd St. Y tomorrow, in case, you know, you’re in New York and you’re looking for something to do.

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.

7 August 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

Over at the Elegant Variation, they’ve excerpted the first chapter of Moya’s Senselessness:

We are very pleased to be able to present to you, in its entirety, the first chapter of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s remarkable novella Senselessness, with kind permission from our friends at New Directions. This book – which will appear presently atop the Recommended sidebar, and will be given away in signed editions tomorrow – is a bleak, mordantly funny marvel. Compact but dense, it will linger in your imagination. He’s been blurbed by no less than Bolano himself, and so here’s an opportunity for you to judge for yourself, via Katherine Silver’s fine translation. Enjoy.

Very cool.

4 August 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Amazon has been keeping a lid on the number of Kindles they’ve sold since it launched, but apparently somebody has finally spilled the beans:

Ever since Amazon launched the Kindle last November, we’ve been wondering about just how successful it’s been. The electronic book initially sold out and supplies have been tight. The Kindle is such a small part of Amazon’s overall business that the company does not break out how many it’s sold. But we found out anyway: 240,000 Kindles have been shipped since November, according to a source close to Amazon with direct knowledge of the numbers.

It’s hard to say whether that’s a good number or a bad one, but it’s more than I would have guessed anyway.

4 August 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Unfortunately for us this is about a year too soon, but Sandra Cisneros is on the Leonard Lopate Show today at 12:00 EST talking about Mercè Rodoreda as a part of their summer reading series:

We continue our Underappreciated summer reading series with a look at Mercè Rodoreda, who wrote The Time of the Doves in exile after Franco’s regime began to suppress her native Catalan language and culture. A powerful story of a young shopkeeper living through the Spanish civil war, it’s considered by many to be the best Catalan novel of all time. Author Sandra Cisneros tells us why it should be more widely read.

If you’d like, you can listen to the show live here, or visit this page later today or tomorrow to listen to the archived show. We’ll be publishing Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Springtime—her final novel—next year.

4 August 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Languagehat on Tolstoy’s use of repetition, and the translation of War and Peace:

One of the things that surprised me when I started reading War and Peace in Russian was that it wasn’t particularly well written in the “fine writing,” Nabokovian sense. The sentences were baggy, the words were not carefully harmonized, and there was an astonishing amount of repetition. But le style, c’est l’homme, and Tolstoy himself was baggy and unharmonized, and I was soon as caught up in the story as I had been when I read it in English.

31 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [5]

The long-awaited moment—something the three of us have been dreaming about since standing together in a parking lot in Normal, IL nearly two years ago—has finally arrived: the first copies of Open Letter’s first book, Nobody’s Home by Dubravka Ugresic, showed up this morning at Open Letter Plaza on the bucolic campus of the University of Rochester. We couldn’t be any more excited.

So, since we’re a bit nerdy and a little too hyped up, we took some unboxing photos of the package from Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, who did an excellent job on the books.

Here is the package:

You can see the books peeping out, just waiting to take a look around their new home:

Here they are, shrink-wrapped for safe keeping. Can they breath in there?

That’s better. Spines out, like you’d do it on a book shelf:

A first look inside:

And Milan, the designs look great on the finished books:

30 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The New York Sun review’s A Manuscript of Ashes and this time Ben Lytal lets someone else get in on the fun:

Now, with the publication of “A Manuscript of Ashes” (Harcourt, 305 pages, $25), we have the chance to read the book that launched Mr. Muñoz Molina’s career as a novelist. First published in Spain in 1986 under the title “Beatus ille,” now translated into English by Edith Grossman, “A Manuscript of Ashes” shows that some of Mr. Muñoz Molina’s central concerns were with him from the very beginning. Once again we find him investigating Spain’s damaged past — in particular, the violence and betrayals of the Spanish Civil War, and the fear and tedium of the Franco dictatorship that succeeded it. Again he is tormented by the pastness of the past, which makes it impossible to know reliably, as well as by its continuing presence, which makes our own lives seem like mere sequels to great events that happened long ago. And already in his first novel, we can now see, Mr. Muñoz Molina was experimenting with a narrative technique adequate to these perceptions. “A Manuscript of Ashes” is divided between two narrators and at least three time frames, and the reader must be constantly on the alert for multiple shifts of perspective, sometimes in the space of a single paragraph.

30 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Over at Conversational Reading, Daniel Whatley has a review of the latest translation of one of my favorites, Jose Eduardo Agualusa:

The Book of Chameleons is not precisely like any novel you’ve likely read, though its antecedents and influences are numerous. Agualusa has mixed his elements with a light hand, balancing his blend with the same earthly poignancy that the gecko Eulalio perceives in the multicolored sunsets of Angola that he cherishes so much.

29 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Kit Maude has a really nice piece on one of Chad’s favorite authors, Julio Cortázar, up on ReadySteadyBook:

The most important aspect of Cortázar’s novels, short stories, poems and eccentrica, is his sense of the game. The game he plays with the reader, the characters, himself (this last phrase is stolen from the foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa to the first volume of Cortázar’s complete short stories, a book which I seem to have misplaced so can’t quote from exactly). The rules, as in the best games, are carefully drawn. They exclude as much as they allow, as in the best stories, creating their own imaginative space. The only trouble is that the rules are often revealed at the crucial moment to be completely different from those that the player (the reader, the character) thought applied.

28 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Lately, I’ve been dying of anticipation for the first finished copies of our first book to arrive (We’re a publisher, too, you know). It’s taken a long time for what was conceptual to begin accumulating the myriad aspects of the actual, but we have our almost final evidence that we’re really publishing books: the cover proofs. So, here you go, a blurry cell phone image of the 300 (yes, 300) cover proofs that showed up in the spacious, modern offices of Open Letter this very morning:

Any day now we should have a few copies of the finished books on hand. Drinks will be drunk.

28 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

This may not seem related to what normally blog about, but trust us, there was at least one translator at the conference:

It’s true, a font conference in Buffalo doesn’t exactly sound like a thrilling way to spend a weekend in July, but for those who’ve already joined the Ban Comic Sans campaign, seen the documentary Helvetica and know their Tahoma from their Times New Roman, it was the event of the year.

This very specific demographic, which for decades consisted almost entirely of European men with black wardrobes and brushed-titanium glasses, now includes tech-nerds in high-waisted denim and plop haircuts, middle-aged women who compare fonts to symphonies and swoon at the mere mention of Century Schoolbook and young hipsters in zip-up hoodies that say “KERN” on the front (with the zipper running between the E and R so the lettering is effectively kerned every time it’s done up – yes, it’s a type joke).

It’s a cool little overview of the conference, if you’re, you know, into that sort of thing. I wonder if anyone came dressed as their favorite typeface?

28 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

cafebabel points out something that’s new to us—the HALMA network:

HALMA is a network of European literary institutions which helps to connect European cultural and literary scenes. HALMA provides with a platform for the exchange of European writers, translators and literary promoters. Via projects of HALMA institutions, the granting of scholarships and the organization of public events in all participating countries, HALMA creates transnational structures for European literature.

In essence, several different literary institutions across Europe—publishers, writers’ unions, writers’ retreats—which were unconnected in any way before and had to stand alone, have gotten together and formed a network whose main function is giving out scholarships to writers, translators, and ‘literary promoters’ to promote cultural exchange: “The HALMA scholarship wants to encourage fruitful encounters between the literary scenes of different European countries”.

Scholarship winners then get to visit a couple of these institutions and spend a month working there. I didn’t recognize many of the awardees—there have only been six so far—but Fatos Kongoli is one.

It’s a fantastic idea, and hopefully it’ll expand even further in the years to come. Check out their website for more information.

28 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The new Quarterly Conversation site looks great. If you haven’t yet checked it out, now is the time.

16 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Why is Gabriel Josipovici not simply the most famous critic working today? Why are so many of his books out of print? How can it be that On Trust is out of print? How can The Book of God be out of print? Did no one read them? Everyone should read them. Everyone should read them.

I have to think people don’t like what he has to say. Is that it? Is it that simple? To me, these books are crucial. They speak to me on an elemental level, about life and modernity and literature. And they are beautifully written.

I’ll have more to say about why I think Josipovici’s work is so necessary—and why it speaks to me so personally. But for now, just praise. And a reminder: the more recent collection of essays, The Singer on the Shore, is equally fantastic. You should go out of your way to read it. Read it.

Seconded.

10 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Someone has collected some short (very short) stories that Daniil Kharms wrote and put them online, including some about Pushkin:

1. Pushkin was a poet and was always writing something. Once Zhukovsky caught him at his writing and exclaimed loudly: – You’re not half a scribbler!

From then on Pushkin was very fond of Zhukovsky and started to call him simply Zhukov out of friendship.

2. As we know, Pushkin’s beard never grew. Pushkin was very distressed about this and he always envied Zakharin who, on the contrary, grew a perfectly respectable beard. ‘His grows, but mine doesn’t’ – Pushkin would often say, pointing at Zakharin with his fingernails. And every time he was right.

via 3qd

9 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Sara Kramer of NYRB emailed me about my microsite idea this morning, and pointed out something cool that I didn’t know about: WikiThing, which is the Wiki page of LibraryThing.

In itself, maybe the WikiThing site isn’t that interesting for you, unless you’re into LibraryThing. However, there are a few user-generated pages on the wiki that are pretty cool even if you’re not into LibraryThing: I See Dead People’s Books, which “works to enter the libraries of famous dead people as LibraryThing catalogs”, and includes the libraries of Danilo Kis and Ezra Pound, among others; and the Literary Awards page, which links to more Literary Awards than anyone needs to know about.

7 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

I was poking around Dubravka Ugresic’s website today, and I came across something I thought you all might find interesting:

Jasmina Lukic of Central European University lectured about Dubravka at UCLA last December, and they’ve been good enough to put the lecture up on their website here. Lukic talks quite a bit about Nobody’s Home, using one of the essays from the book as a jumping off point to understanding Dubravka’s work.

Anyway, the reason I was poking around Dubravka’s site was because I was thinking about making “microsites” for our authors: something along the lines of what ReadySteadyBook! has done, but more interactive, maybe with an editable wiki page where people can add information of their own.

For someone like Dubravka, who has quite a bit of information online, it may not be as useful, but I think it might be a good way to make more English-language information about someone like Ricardas Gavelis available.

Is this something you would find interesting? Would you participate? Is it just unnecessarily reproducing the work that could just be happening on Wikipedia? Is this the kind of thing you’d like to see on a publisher’s website?

3 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) started a two-year project in 2007 to evaluate published English translations of Korean literature. In the first stage of evaluation work. 41 novels in 72 editions from 721 books that had been translated and published up to 2006 were evaluated. The second stage of the survey will focus on poetry and be completed by the end of 2008.

...

The results of this project will be used to estimate the level and problems of Korean literature translated into English and for establishing an important database for its improvement.

A lot of countries have book offices which promote the translation of their national literatures, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. They’re studying all of their works that have been translated into English to determine the quality of the translations!

So far, they say only 10% of the translations they’ve evaluated merit a score of “high readability”. I’d be curious to find out what these books are, although I can’t imagine the lists would ever be released.

I wonder if they’ll release some kind of analysis of their findings at the end of the study…

(via LS)

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

In China, this sort of free-form adoption of English is helped along by a shortage of native English-speaking teachers, who are hard to keep happy in rural areas for long stretches of time. An estimated 300 million Chinese — roughly equivalent to the total US population — read and write English but don’t get enough quality spoken practice. The likely consequence of all this? In the future, more and more spoken English will sound increasingly like Chinese.

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

Over at Absinthe’s blog, Thomas Kennedy introduces the latest issue of The Literary Review, which he edited and which focuses on new Danish writing.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of content online, but it’s worth a look. (Beware! The content that is online is in what a good friend of ours appropriately calls the dreaded pdf format).

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

Over at Ready Steady Book, Stephen reviews Senselessness:

The uncommon, elongated noun describing the mental state of the father is enough to remind the reader of Bernhard’s 1967 novel Verstörung — translated as Gargoyles yet meaning “disturbance” — in which a doctor takes his student son on a tour of his patients in rural Austria. It exposes him to a world of sick, brutalised and grotesquely malformed bodies and souls, just as the unnamed narrator of Senselessness is exposed to the haunted words of ravaged peasants. Inheritance is the bond. Where the son discovers that an escape into rational enquiry will not protect him from what’s bred in the bone, the editor will find his assured world of hard drinking and casual sex threatened by sentences emerging from what had once been silence.

His highly-wrought prose is consistent with a voice maintaining itself on an awareness of imminent breakdown. What happens on the doctor’s round in Gargoyles has a memorable impact on the novel. As if the son’s account has already succumbed to his inheritance, the second half is annexed by the monologuing Prince Saurau, an aristocrat whom father and son visit in his castle. For this reason, Castellanos Moya’s adoption of Bernhard’s style can be seen as more than homage. The editor in Senselessness is himself not all there; what we read is the inheritance of the manuscript.

11 June 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Hosam Aboul-Ela provides a brief overview of Egyptian writers on Words Without Borders:

Collectively, these novels embody contemporary Egyptian society’s tendency to play with time. The visitor feels time is moving backward and forward simultaneously here. Every time I stay for more than a few months, I’m impressed with how much talent exists in my generation and those coming after us. But too many of my talented friends too often seem like the superfluous man or woman in a Dostoevsky novel, living in a society that has a hard time keeping up with its youth. The novels say to me that in a place where time operated differently, the young talent filling the country would not be marginalized.

10 June 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This is why I love Eurozine:

Though still routinely referred to as Germans, Austrian novelists have experienced a recent run of critical and commercial success. The “difficult” prose of the past has been replaced by a focus on story-telling, with women writers producing no less interesting work in the genre than the new male “narrative miracles”. Yet experimentalism is by no means out: darkly humorous and self-referential “writer’s novels” are also booming. In the latest essay in Eurozine’s series “Literary Perpsectives”, critic Daniela Strigl surveys a contemporary Austrian scene at the top of its game.

There’s a lot to digest here, and a lot to check out.

10 June 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

There’s not a lot new here, but some of the numbers are interesting. The e-book market tripled from 2005…to $30M?

Although e-books may one day transform the industry, another new technology that is less visible to readers is already making itself felt. Print on Demand (POD), which allows books to be printed and bound to order, is making millions of books available even if they appeal to only a narrow readership. Here, too, academia leads the way. Stephen DeForge of Ames On-Demand says his POD business, which specialises in printing small runs of customised books for schools and universities, has been growing by 45% a year since 2001. Last year his firm printed more than 800,000 books in runs as small as ten copies at a time.

The opportunity has not been lost on Mr Bezos. In March Amazon announced that it would require all the POD books it sells to be printed by the company at its warehouses. Mr Bezos says that this enables Amazon to have a book ready to ship within two hours of an order being placed online. Between POD and the Kindle, Mr Bezos thinks he can sell “any book ever printed in any language”. But printers and distributors, like booksellers before them, fear the oncoming Amazon juggernaut.

3 June 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Nicholas Spice reviews Elfride Jelinek’s Greed in the LRB:

In Greed, Jelinek finds a way to deal with depth (with the abyss inside the human) without either reverting to the analgesic of realism or exhausting the reader with flood-lit ugliness. For all its derangement, Greed is not ugly. Indeed, once one has got used to it, it yields strange and memorable pleasures. But only if read in German. With its constant shifts of tone and register, the slippery sideways movement of thought through wordplay and punning, the frequent allusions to other German texts, the idiom of Greed poses almost insuperable obstacles to good translation. Jelinek herself took years to translate Gravity’s Rainbow and it would take a comparable labour of love to translate Gier adequately. As it is, doubtless under tight economic constraints, the publishers have paid for a hit-and-miss, standard, ‘by the page’ translation and the result is a disaster. It’s hard to imagine that Jelinek’s reputation in the English-speaking world will ever recover. It would have been better to have left the novel untranslated.

29 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Good news on two fronts from Lillehammer: the internet is free, and they have free coffee in the lobby of the hotel via a Nespresso machine—I’ll have to get one for myself soon.

The festival started off for us yesterday with a lecture by Kjell Ivar Skjerdingstad at the Lillehammer Kunstmuseum. The overall theme of the talk, “Viscosity, or just hanging around: The meaning of presence in contemporary literature”, was a little bit lost on me—I think you needed to be pretty familiar with all of the authors Kjell talked about to see the connections he was drawing—but it was a good overview of contemporary Norwegian literature nonetheless, touching on Graywolf’s Per Petterson and Dag Solstad, our Jan Kjaerstad (whose last name I spent a long time trying to learn how to pronounce over drinks, I think I almost have it), Erlend Loe, Inger Bråtveit (more on her later), and Hanne Ørstavik (who the people from Forlaget Oktober all really love).

After a nice reception/dinner buffet in the museum, the crowd moved on to Bingo’n, a club that is hosting a bunch of events at the festival. Last night’s event featured Inger Bråtveit and Jenny Hval of Rockettothesky. They alternated reading (Inger read from her forthcoming, unfinished novel) and singing—when Jenny Hval first started singing I was absolutely blown away; the songs I linked to on her myspace page don’t do her live performance justice. For the most part it was in Norwegian (some of the songs were in English), so I didn’t understand a word, but the crowd seemed appreciative, although nobody could explain to me exactly what went on when I asked after the performance.

All in all it was a very interesting first day. Today a few Norwegian authors will be presenting their books to us, and then I have a few meetings. I’ll try to post another update tomorrow.

Today’s “Norway-is-expensive” item: 1 bottle of Heineken costs 61 NOK, which is a little more than $12.

27 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Our latest review is of Stefan Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl, one of this year’s Reading the World titles. Jeff Waxman of Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago provides the review.

27 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Chad has to go to BEA, so I’m pinch-hitting for him in Lillehammer at The Norwegian Festival of Literature. I don’t have much to report so far—I just arrived this morning—but the Festival gets underway tomorrow with a lecture on Norwegian literature by Kjell Ivar Skjerdingstad and a reception, so I should have some more news then. That is, if the budget holds out. I’m not certain, but I think the hotel is charging me $25 for 24 hrs of internet access.

They say that Norway is expensive. They are right. I’m afraid to go out for a cappuccino.

20 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Robert Buckeye provides us with our latest review, a look at Peter Pistanek’s Rivers of Babylon.

19 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Morgan Meis introduced a conversation between Peter Esterhazy and Wayne Koestenbaum (who was fabulous at the Walser event) at PEN World Voices a few weeks ago. He was kind enough to put his introduction online today:

Esterházy is trying to make it work. It is a literary approach that comes down directly from that incorrigible drunk, Jaroslav Hasek, the author of The Good Soldier Svejk. Svejk is a rube all the way through and sometimes a scoundrel, but he always chooses life over death. It is there even in his way of talking, a style that Hasek gives his favorite literary creation which is both straightforward and evasive at the same time. It’s a kind of irony, middle European irony, that is neither Socratic nor the blasé irony of Western intellectual boredom. Actually I think it is much better than both of those things. Always it is a language, a style or a manner of comporting oneself that finds a way to skirt through the cracks. Again, life. Here’s Svejk on being locked up in an insane asylum, “I really don’t know why those loonies get so angry when they’re kept there. You can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, rage and bite… There’s a freedom there which not even Socialists have dreamed of.”

It’s a nice introduction, mentioning Hasek (whose Svejk, one of my favorites, is in desperate need of a re-translation) and Hrabal.

19 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Via Ready Steady, issue number 3 of the International Quarterly is online.

Time has flown since our previous issue this February, a month once characterized by Zulfikar Ghose as “nasty, British and short”. Ghose’s trenchancy is not confined to seasonal vicissitudes, as borne out by his essay published in this forum, spelling out the pitfalls of literary provincialism. He will surely feel at home here given the diverse cultural origins and universal voices of an array of writers such as: Michael Blumenthal, Denise Duhamel, Roberta Gordenstein and Geoffrey Hartman, each proving that American literature is the equal of any being written today; C.J.K. Arkell, Jill Dawson and Anthony Rudolf, reminding us that British literati are hardly lagging behind; and Marjorie Agosín and Irina Ratushinskaya, from Chile and Russia respectively, outstanding exponents of a poetry both lyrical and defiant.

16 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Over at The Millions, Garth follows up on his literary prize post of a few days ago:

I know next to nothing about the translation business, except that it is vital to my reading habits. And so, earlier this week, I posted a little survey of international awards for fiction, along with the unobjectionable (I think) suggestion that more foreign-language prize-winners should be translated into English. I had been surprised at how difficult it was merely to find English-language information on, for example, The Austrian Grand Prize for East European Literature, and part of my intention was to put the “wisdom of crowds” to work for me, via reader comments and blog reactions. And, lo! The Complete Review and The Guardian’s book blog obliged. From the former, (which seems in possession of much better intel than I am) I learned that the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize may have been a weak proxy for the cream of German-language literature. I also learned, in a pleasant surprise, that my “translation quotients” apparently “do seem to reflect general translation-trends.” I thought I’d follow up today with a few interpretive gambits.

13 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Max’s recent post cataloging 13 years of Anglo-American “Prizewinners” got me wondering… what were the most decorated books in foreign-language fiction during the same period? And how many of them are currently available in English? I assumed that, in an Internet age, this information would be easy to come by in consolidated form; as it turned out, I was wrong. And so, by way of a remedy, I embarked on a tortuous research process.

The first step was to figure out what prizes I should be looking at. I tried to identify awards that recognized a single work of fiction annually, or biennially; that focused on a specific linguistic tradition; and that would give a book traction in a market sizable enough to facilitate comparison. That is, I was looking for analogues for the National Book Award or the Booker. The list of prizes I ended up with covers a slightly expanded version of the U.N. Security Council – France and its former colonies, the Spanish-speaking world, Germany and Austria, Italy, Russia, and Japan – which may, in itself, tell us something about the nature of literary laurels.

9 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Sancho’s Panza mentions that galleys of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 have begun to surface:

So it looks like the fat advance copies of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 in English translation have begun arriving in reviewers’ mailboxes. It will be interesting to see how this book is received, after the gush of critical (and reader) enthusiasm for The Savage Detectives last year. My opinion, which goes against the opinion of many writers and critics (such as pioneering Bolaño booster Francisco Goldman), is that The Savage Detectives is the better work, more satisfying, less self-conscious, more fun, more a book that will outlast whatever hype becomes attached to it. And I think The Savage Detectives is a deeper book in the end though the themes of 2666 would seem perhaps to carry more ballast: death and evil.

9 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Paul Verhaeghen, the man who translated his own book into English and won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize yesterday, has decided to donate his prize money to the ACLU. From his blog:

In the light of all this, and to avoid supporting the regime with more tax dollars than I already owe them, I have asked the Arts Council England to donate the money associated with the Prize, all 10,000 pounds of it, to the American Civil Liberties Union. Withholding the tax portion of those 10,000 pounds from the US Treasury will shorten the war by a mere eye-blink – its cost is currently 3,810 dollar per second — but the ACLU can use that money to great effect in their legal battles against torture, detainee abuse, and the silence surrounding it.

We are not immune to history. But neither is history immune to us.

7 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Taking advantage of Vargas Llosa being in NYC for the PEN World Voices Festival:

The Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, Kareen Rispal, conferred the insignia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters on the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa yesterday in a ceremony in New York. In accepting the honor, Mr. Vargas Llosa described himself as deeply indebted to French literature and culture. As a 21-year-old in 1968, Mr. Vargas Llosa recalled, he won a literary contest, the prize of which was a two-week trip to Paris. He was awed by the city, but was even more startled to discover that there was another celebrity staying in his hotel: Miss France 1968. He danced with her. “This is an experience that marks you for the rest of your life,” the writer said of his first taste of Paris.

7 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Chad is selling our books in to Barnes & Noble this morning. Wish him luck. We need it.

5 May 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Scott Esposito has an excellent essay on Bolaño, and how translations are received in the U.S., up at Hermano Credo. You should go check it out:

I love literature because I love it, but also because I derive hope from it. Each time a writer sits herself down to work, she dashes herself up against the impossible task of penetrating another’s mind, and though no one ever manages to accomplish it, it’s nonetheless inspiring that so many writers have failed so well at it. And if we step back from that solitary writer and enlarge our glance to take in all the writers of the world trying to put the workings of a mind down on paper, and then if we think about how much of this writing is shuttled back and forth across languages and borders to readers trying to commune with alien minds and alien cultures, it makes me hopeful to think that something is getting across.

Amidst all this activity, to discover something that you find personally rewarding is a wonderful feeling. It is like finding a kindred soul on the other side of the Earth. The pursuit of this feeling motivates a good deal of my trips deeper and deeper into the great vault that we sometimes refer to as literature, and I admit that when I do find an author who can give it to me, I like to come back and back to that author. And yet, when I recover from my swoon and look up to all the thousands and thousands of books still out there that might potentially hold my next kindred soul, the feeling is overwhelming.

And yes, I am finally (how embarrassing that it’s taken me this long) starting to read Bolaño. I guess I have a lot of catching up to do before 2666.

29 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The redesigned website of the Frankfurt Book Fair launched today. It’s a welcome improvement over the old site—visually cleaner and much easier to navigate. Check it out.

28 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

According to Publisher’s Lunch:

Iceland has formally signed on as the guest honor for the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011. FBF director Jurgen Boos says in the announcement, “Iceland is one of the smallest book markets worldwide, but unbelievably productive. Literature has shaped the identity of this European island nation from the beginning. At the same time, its geographical position and its culture have made Iceland an important interface between America and Europe.”

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

The Literary Saloon pointed out another new UK-based translation site: this time Booktrust’s Translated Ficion. One of the first articles on the site is from Daniel Hahn, translator of one of my favorite authors, Jose Eduardo Agualusa.

He has a refreshingly different take on the low number of translations that appear in the UK (we have the same problem here):

But given a choice between on the one hand transforming those 3% into a market share of, say, 6%, and on the other remaining at 3% and doubling the readership for each of those fine books we’re already translating, I’d choose the latter without hesitation.

and then a bit later:

We should be persuading readers to read more bravely whatever the language; instead of bemoaning the paltriness of the 3% quota, we should be talking passionately about those culture-expanding books that are being published and how damn good they are. (And many of them – as it happens – are translations.) We should celebrate them, these many, many varied triumphs. You absolutely must read the most wonderful novel I’ve just discovered…

His argument is a good one (and I especially agree with his point about the mistake of grouping translations as if they were a monolithic genre) but within limits. That is to say, it’s a good argument for how to proceed from where we are now (moving from few translations with a smallish readership to few translations with a larger readership), but it seems to me that that can only be the first step, not the end of the discussion.

In the first place, as Chad has documented, we’re somewhere far, far short of that 3% number (and there is no way that 6000 translations came out in the UK last year—the 3% of the 200,00 Hahn said were published). If we’re at a low number of translations, and it’s a very low number, then the likelihood of that ‘adventurous’ reader stumbling upon a translation is also very low, even if we double the number of adventurous readers out there. The likelihood of those books getting good attention (from publishers, the media, booksellers) is proportionally low, especially when those publishers who publish the translations are not the ones with large marketing/media budgets, or, when they are, that money is generally not going to translations.

I don’t think we can raise awareness for what it is we’re doing without simultaneously doing more of it. The more translations (of all kinds) that are available, the more the cultural playing field can be leveled, and the better chance we have of garnering some attention for those books. By publishing more translations, you’re increasing the chances that one of those translations will break into the larger public consciousness.

Anyway, Hahn’s article is well worth the read. I suggest you take a look, and best of luck to Booktrust, it seems like it’s off to a rousing start.

24 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Bill Johnston, who is translating Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel for us, has an interview on Polish Writing, where he discusses Magdalena Tulli and translation.

23 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Argentine poet Juan Gelman has received the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honour.

Gelman, who receives 90,000 euros with the award, is considered Argentina’s poet laureate. His prolific work addresses among other issues the pain of loss under military juntas that ruled his country in the 1970s and 80s.

23 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Sam Munson has some not very nice things to say about Saša Stanišić‘s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone:

While the art of catastrophe will tolerate whole constellations of novelistic approaches, it cannot tolerate authorial disingenuousness, which pickles such efforts, turning insights sour, paltry, and false. And this, unfortunately, Mr. Stanišić has in spades.

And that’s the friendly part.

23 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

David Del Vecchio is all set to open Idlewild Books in NYC:

“I was in a chain bookstore and realized I would have to go to five different sections to get what I needed—a travel guide, a map, a language book, a novel,” he noted. “At Idlewild, everything will be shelved by country, and in the case of the United States, by state—that way people will be able to browse according to the place of their interest.”

This is stop number one for me next week when we’re in town.

21 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

We’re proud to announce that the official website of Open Letter, openletterbooks.org, is online now.

You can browse our catalog, subscribe to our rss feed to keep up with the latest news, or subscribe to our list (either to a single season or the whole year) and get a 20% discount on our books!

To kick things off, we’ve posted an interview we recently conducted with Bragi Ólafsson, author of The Pets.

We hope you enjoy the site. Feedback and suggestions are most welcome, and look for a lot of great features to come in the not too distant future.

14 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

PW Daily today pointed us to Zinio, who are giving away more than 100 classics on their site and who “wanted to showcase the most impressive on-screen reading experience while maintaining the integrity and feel of the old classics.”

What this means: You can go to their site, and browse their “virtual library,” which is set up to look like a row of leather bound books on your shelf. When you click on one of the books, it opens the Zinio reader, which provides the aforementioned “most impressive on-screen reading experience,” in your browser. The reader is set up to look like a book. You can even “turn the pages” by dragging a corner of a page on to the other page.

Dear Zinio, this embarrasses both of us. First, you’re assuming that I’ll like your service because it reproduces an experience I’m familiar with, which suggests that you think I’m a dummy who is afraid of the internet. Second, this reader is about the furthest thing away from the book reading experience I can imagine; and that the Zinio people think providing a thrice-removed, hollowed-out shell of a familiar experience will drive people to start using their service gives you some idea of how far the Zinio people are from understanding the future of e-books.

Not to mention the fact that every one of these books (I assume) is available on Project Gutenberg, who have the common decency to provide public domain books in an open format, while Zinio’s ‘innovation’ locks you into an, at best, awkward, and horribly slow, in-browser reader or an equally awful desktop client.

When you’re making Amazon look like forward-thinking folks with their Kindle, you know you need to go back to the drawing board.

10 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Having finished Proust, my wife and I have started reading Speak, Memory at bedtime, and I am reading the corresponding section of the Russian version, Drugie berega [Other shores], afterwards; I want to make a post about the amazing Russian tradition of literary autobiographies and memoirs (and autobiographical novels), but I don’t have time at the moment, so I’ll confine myself to noting that the differences between the Russian and English texts are fascinating and illuminating for understanding Nabokov’s writerly instincts.

8 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Mr. Othofer brought this to our attention the other day (and now Mark Thwaite has reminded us again in the comments) and I meant to post about it right away, but it’s still not too late: go check out the World Literature Forum.

It looks like its just getting started, so you finally have a chance to get in on the ground floor of an internet phenomenon.

8 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, which has apparently been going on for a while now, was just brought to our attention:

The 10th annual edition of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival will take place April 30–May 4, 2008 at the Delta-Centre-Ville Hotel as over 350 writers, literary translators, cartoonists, storytellers, and publishers from around the world will gather in Montreal for five days of literary events held in English, French, Spanish and other languages.

They have a really great list of authors lined up this year (including one of Open Letter’s!):

Sealtiel Alatriste (Mexico), André Alexis (Canada), Donald Antrim (USA), Anouar Benmalek (Algeria), Geoffrey Brock (USA), Ricardo Castillo (Mexico), Karen Connelly (Canada), Lindsey Davis (UK), Sanja Domazet (Serbia), Sylvie Durbet-Giono (France), Alaa El Aswany (Egypt), Alina Fernandez (USA/Cuba), Anke Feuchtenberger (Germany), Gary Geddes (Canada), Nancy Huston (Canada), Etgar Keret (Israel), Alice Kuipers (Canada), Gilles Lapouge (France), Adam LeBor (UK/Hungary), Alexander Livergant (Russia), Alain Mabanckou (Congo), K. Madavane (India), James Meek (UK), Ameen Merchant (India/Canada), Diane Meur (Belgium), Jacques Neirynck (Switzerland), Josip Novakovich (USA/Croatia), Andrew O’Hagan (Scotland), Glenn Patterson (Northern Ireland), Anna Porter (Canada), Roberto Saviano (Italy), Yu Shi (China), Adriaan van Dis (Netherlands), Padma Viswanathan (Canada), Jorge Volpi (Mexico), Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya), Ruth R. Wisse (USA), and Dulce Maria Zúñiga (Mexico) and Tang Ying (China).

The full program for the festival should be up sometime today.

And now for the bad news. The Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival takes place April 30 – May 4, which is the exact same weekend as the PEN World Voices Festival in New York. So, we’re going to miss out on it (again) this year, but at least we’re informed.

Now we just have to figure out a way to get them to invite us to the Festival for 2009…

7 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Russia’s greatest living novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is working feverishly to complete his collected works and is writing every day despite failing health, a missing vertebra and being unable to walk, his wife, Natalia, revealed yesterday.

In a rare interview, Natalia Solzhenitsyn told The Observer that her Nobel prize-winning husband – who turns 90 in December – is still working on several major literary projects in his west Moscow dacha, and is determined to oversee the publication of a 30-volume edition of his selected works.

4 April 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Barcelona is celebrating the centenary of the birth of Mercè Rodoreda, author of well-known works like La Plaça del Diamant (The Time of the Doves) and Mirall Trencat (Broken Mirror), with a programme of events that does not focus on the writer we all know but on her less well-known works.

As culture councillor Jordi Martí explained, “the centenary programme the city is launching will show a writer far removed from the stereotypes and provide an opportunity to learn more about her.”

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

The stories in Mafeking Road are set in the Transvaal region of what is now South Africa at the turn of the 20th century, when the local Boer population were at war with the British in a conflict that is known as the Boer War. The British were seeking to re-establish that part of southern Africa as a British colony, following a brief period of independence, and the characters of Mafeking Road, live their lives against the background of this war and its aftermath.

The stories are related by Oom Schalk Lourens—the self-anointed best storyteller in the Groot-Marico district—a typical slave-owning Boer farmer, who is one of the great characters in modern literature. Schalk is indolent, self-important, meddling, petty, strategically tactful, and, yes, a great storyteller, and his stories both point to the universal in the small community of farmers who work this remote and harsh land—their unevenly fervent religious life, their loves and losses and jealousies, their complaints about the weather and shopkeepers and lazy workers—and to the specificity of the way these universals are lived in the unique environment of the Transvaal.

Each of Schalk’s stories are oral stories, recorded, as it appears, by the author, and each opens in a similar fashion, as seen here in “Veld Maiden”: “I know what it is—Oom Schalk Lourens said—when you talk that way about the veld.” They generally move quickly to a brief summation of what is going to happen in the stories, a summation that acts almost as a preemptive, ironic moral to the story, and they tend to end with a dramatic twist, sometimes one that is only apparent in the final sentence of the story.

This narrative structure is used to maximum effect by Bosman, and it’s remarkably flexible, giving him a distance from Schalk and the stories that allows him to comment on the characters and their situation without having to say anything at all. Quoting again from “Veld Maiden,” we see that Schalk tells his story as he sees it, but this collection clearly doesn’t exhaust his store, and it’s the author who has decided which ones get recorded:

I know what it is—Oom Schalk Lourens said—when you talk that way about the veld. I have known people who sit like you do and dream about the veld, and talk strange things, and start believing in what they call the soul of the veld, until in the end the veld means a different thing to them from what it does to me.

I only know that the veld can be used for growing mealies on, and it isn’t very good for that, either. Also, it means very hard work for me, growing mealies. There is the ploughing, for instance. I used to get aches in my back and shoulders from sitting on a stone all day long on the edge of the lands, watching the kaffirs and the oxen and the plough going up and down, making furrows. Hans Coetzee, who was a Boer War prisoner at St. Helena, told me how he got sick at sea from watching the ship going up and down, up and down, all the time.

And it’s the same with the ploughing. The only real cure for this ploughing sickness is to sit quietly on a riempies bench on the stoep with one’s legs raised slightly, drinking coffee until the ploughing season is over. Most of the farmers in the Marico Bushveld have adopted this remedy, as you have no doubt observed by this time.

The stories in Mafeking Road move between comedy and tragedy, often several times within the same story, and they detail loves lost, or lovers lost, or tragicomic encounters with the British, or family dramas, but each of the stories is masterfully executed and wonderfully written, and achieve their effects almost magically.

Mafeking Road and Other Stories
by Herman Charles Bosman
201 pages, $15.00
978-0-9793330-6-4
Archipelago Books

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

We’re a little late on this, but The Guardian’s World Literature Tour made its latest stop in Germany.

31 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Robert Fagles, the renowned translator of Latin and Greek whose versions of Homer and Virgil were unlikely best sellers and became fixtures on classroom reading lists, died on Wednesday at his home in Princeton, N.J., where he was an emeritus professor at Princeton University. He was 74.

Here’s the Times obituary.

26 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Our latest review is Eric Dickens’ examination of David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism.

13 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Two startlingly similar short novels appeared in France in 1942, at the centre of each a conscienceless and slightly creepy young man, unattached and adrift, the perpetrator of a meaningless murder. One was Albert Camus’s L’Étranger, the other Georges Simenon’s La Veuve Couderc. Camus’s novel rose to become part of the literary firmament, and is still glittering, intensely studied and praised – to my mind, overpraised. Simenon’s novel did not drop, but settled, so to speak, went the way of the rest of his work – rattled along with decent sales, the occasional reprint, and was even resurrected as a 1950s pulp fiction paperback with a come-on tag line (“A surging novel of torment and desire”) and a lurid cover: busty peasant girl pouting in a barn, her skirt hiked over her knees, while a hunky guy lurks at the door – price twenty-five cents.

6 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

We just got the following press release from Dedalus in our inbox:

PRESS RELEASE

Dedalus is proud to announce that Informa plc through its subsidiary company Routledge Books, an imprint of Taylor & Francis, will sponsor Dedalus for the next two years as part of Informa plc’s corporate responsibility programme.

This sponsorship means that Dedalus will be able to honour the commitments it has undertaken to its authors, translators, cultural institutions and other publishers. We will continue to encourage and support new writing, with special emphasis on the dialogue between cultures brought about by literature in translation

Dedalus’s readers can now look forward to translated fiction from Danish, Estonian, Flemish, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish in the next two years as well as more original English language fiction. Dedalus has just bought Made in Yaroslavl, a brilliant first novel by Jeremy Weingard, who lives in the East of England.

“Apart from financial support we hope to benefit from the technical expertise and advice of a large and successful publisher which will be of great benefit to Dedalus. We look forward to working with Routledge Books and making the most of the opportunities this sponsorship programme will provide for Dedalus.”

Eric Lane, M.D of Dedalus Publishers

More details as we get them, but we’re definitely glad1 that Dedalus won’t have to close down, which seemed increasingly likely after the Arts Council grant debacle.

1 Something about this seems strange. Maybe it’s my ingrained American-ness that makes me suspicious, but I don’t think companies are usually in the business of giving money away for no expected return, most especially to literary translation.

6 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

From Salon:

The “new novel” or “nouveau roman,” as Robbe-Grillet defined and explained it in his famous 1963 essay, was high art at its unpalatably highest. It applied rules and regulations, opposed subjectivity and tried to dissolve plot and character into description. The approach was perceived, he admitted, as “difficult to read, addressed only to specialists.” The “art novel” became the preserve of high priests. Many novelists you’ve probably never heard of were deeply influenced by Robbe-Grillet. Even more damaging, though, was the effect his radicalization and elitism had on readers in the English-speaking world: They took a look at the future of the novel according to Robbe-Grillet and walked in the opposite direction.

It’s a strange kind of article that argues that the novel is both “polyglot and unpredictable” and that Robbe-Grillet’s use of the form was somehow out of bounds. So, experimentation, but only the kind of experimentation Mr. Marche likes.

5 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In the Sun, Ben Lytal provides a brief overview to the new translation of Kafka’s stories by Michael Hofmann. It certainly sounds like it’s worth picking up, as are the Shocken translations he mentions, if you don’t have them already.

Now a new volume, “Metamorphosis and Other Stories” (Penguin, 320 pages, $14), also translated by Mr. Hofmann, rounds out this generation of major Kafka translations. By positioning this volume as a collection of everything that Kafka published in his lifetime, Mr. Hofmann pokes another hole in the old image of Kafka as “someone we are encouraged to think of as a publication-averse recluse.” Many of the stories collected here, especially the title story, are extremely well-known. But by packaging “The Metamorphosis” — which has lost the definite article in this translation — with 42 other stories and prose sketches in a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, the publishers make a bid to change the way new readers are introduced to Kafka.

Like many recent Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, the cover of “Metamorphosis” has been illustrated by a well-known graphic artist (“Candide” got Chris Ware, “Metamorphosis” gets Sammy Harkham). The stark, modernist faces of yesterday’s Kafka paperbacks are gone. One of Harkham’s drawings, for instance, shows a messy bourgeois scene: Three men sit grumpily at dinner, while a young woman plays a violin and an older man snores in his armchair. A preponderance of detail — armchair, side whiskers, grandfather clock — combines to give the illustration a 19th-century, rather than modern, ambience. And over the whole image looms what seems at first to be a giant willow tree, massing in wavy black bunches that somehow droop, dividing into tendrils, over the bourgeois furniture — until we realize that the black bunches are no tree but, quite sensibly, hordes of little black beetles.

5 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

More on Nabokov’s last and maybe-about-to-be-destroyed novel/novel-fragment, The Original of Laura, from Slate:

But the essence is this: Dmitri says he reached a decision after an imagined ghostly conversation with his dead father—one in a far different key from Hamlet’s talk with his dead dad.

“I have decided,” Koval quoted Dmitri, “that my father, with a wry and fond smile, might well have contradicted himself upon seeing me in my present situation and said, “Well, why don’t you mix the useful with the pleasurable? That is, say or do what you like but why not make some money on the damn thing?’ “

5 March 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

But I’ve realised something: when I think about the great novelists translated into English from other languages, disproportionately few of the names I come up with are women’s. For every Isabel Allende there’s a raft of José Saramagos, Gabriel Garcia Marquezes, Mario Vargas Llosas and Pablo Nerudas. Hardly any of the familiar names of pre-war European fiction belong to women: the odd female contender like Colette is barely even visible among the clamouring ranks of male giants like Tolstoy, Flaubert, Kafka, Proust, Mann and Dostoevsky.

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

Serve the People! is the story of Wu Dawang, a peasant from the countryside who has joined the Red Army, and who, after distinguishing himself in his division as a politically proper soldier, has achieved the relatively privileged rank of Sergeant of the Catering Squad. Wu Dawang is assigned to be General Orderly for the Division Commander, meaning he keeps house and cooks meals for the Division Commander and his wife, the alluring 32-year-old military nurse, Liu Lian.

Shortly after the opening of the novel, the Division Commander, an older man whose first marriage ended in divorce, takes an extended leave from Wu Dawang, Liu Lian, and his Division—his presence is required at a military conference, where he will spend the next two months drafting plans to modernize and streamline the Red Army.

While he’s away, Liu Lian, lonely, bored, married to an older, impotent man, attempts to seduce Wu Dawang, but Wu Dawang’s sense of military order and thoughts of his wife and child—who remain in the countryside awaiting Wu Dawang’s promotion to officialdom and life in a Chinese city—cause him to hesitate:

Wu Dawang also decided not to go straight to bed. He wound his way around those companionable clusters of drinkers to the deserted, southernmost end of the ground. There he sat, alone. To any casual observer, this deep moonlight contemplation might have suggested an inquiry into the fundamentals of existence, into the ethics of love, desire and revolution, into the conflict between honour and self-interest, into duty and hierarchy, human nature and animal instinct. But in reality these thorny abstractions slipped by him like smoke, leaving behind only two considerations: one, Liu Lian’s extraordinarily seductive body; and two, the probable consequences of entering into the kind of relations that she seemed to be proposing, and the Division Commander finding out. The simple but powerful blade of his mind stripped the issues of all complexity, leaving only these two principal contradictions. Meditating on the former, he was lost in blissful daydreams; thoughts of the latter called up the terrifying presentiment that just around the next corner of his life an execution ground awaited.

Eventually, Wu Dawang gives in to Liu Lian’s advances, and they begin a torrid affair that threatens not only Wu Dawang’s life and Liu Lian’s marriage, but the entire Division as well.

Yan Lianke’s book has caused something of a scandal in China. Serve the People! was originally published in a magazine, where it drew the attention of the Central Propaganda Bureau, who demanded that the entire print run, some 30,000 copies, be recalled and destroyed; the book has since been banned there, as have several other of Lianke’s novels. This translation even uses that fact as a marketing hook, printing some text from the Central Propaganda Bureau’s ruling—it “slanders Mao Zedong, the Army and is overflowing with sex”—on the back of the book.

The novel definitely does all of those things, and you can see why, were you a member of a censorship board in China, it might be banned. However, much of the impact of what was scandalous in its original context—the sex, poking fun at Mao Zedong thought, Mao Zedong’s iconography, the Cultural Revolution, and the naive sloganeering of the average Red Army soldier, and Liu Lian and Wu Dawang’s abuse of the “Serve the People” slogan—is lost on Western readers. These are things, after all, which aren’t sacred cows for any of us. So, once the glamorous glow of the forbidden and titillating is stripped away, what’s left of Serve the People! is an apparently straightforward story of forbidden love, for at least the first two-thirds of the novel, anyway.

And much of that first two-thirds feels pretty familiar, which left me wanting Lianke to just get Wu Dawang and Liu Lian together, so he could get on with the rest of his story. Anyone who has seen a romantic comedy and gets to the part when misunderstandings-or-outside-forces-are-temporarily-driving-
the-lovers-apart-which-makes-their-eventual-coupling-more-
satisfying knows what I’m talking about, but in this case with a lot more sex once they get together.

Once he gets them together however, Lianke’s story does take on a more elegiac and, to me at least, far more interesting tone. And the book does have a few powerful moments toward the end, when the current of criticism that runs through the plot—how constricting these communist slogans, once internalized, have become, and how they are used and twisted by all and sundry just to get by—affects the plot and the characters most directly and more deeply.

Serve the People!
by Yan Lianke
Translated from the Chinese by Julia Lovell
Paperback, 216 pages, $14.00
978-0-8021-7044-6
Black Cat, a paperback original imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

27 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

According to Mark, Random House is letting you download—free of charge, those generous scamps—Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, although only for a limited time. I guess once the time expires everyone’s PDFs…just disappear, or something. Its a nice gesture, anyway, and we’d like to see more people getting on the ‘why don’t we give it away’ bandwagon, especially for those books, unlike Charles’, that aren’t, and likely never will be, on the Times bestseller list.

Now if I can just convince Chad and every agent, author, and cultural institution that this is a good idea for Open Letter and translations…

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

The Library of Congress has decided to use Microsoft’s Silverlight to build their new website. LibraryThing has something to say about it:

Most disturbingly, users are locked in, too: anybody using an iPhone, an old version of Windows, any version of Linux, or any other operating system or device not supported by Silverlight will be unable to use the Library of Congress’ new website. How is that compatible with the principles of democracy or librarianship? It’s taxation without web presentation. And how exactly is that a quantum leap forward?

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

The Guardian had a nice profile/overview of Dubravka Ugresic’s life and work in this weekend’s edition:

During the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Dubravka Ugresic was denounced, she says, as “a whore, a witch and a traitor”. A reluctant citizen of newly independent Croatia, she took a stand against nationalism “and all its perversities”, and like many people became a target. As the Balkan wars escalated, she found herself the victim of a “collective paranoia: people rushed to be willing executioners. Nobody forced them to kill, spit on and humiliate others – but they did. It became acceptable. It was like being marked with a yellow star.”

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

The NYT reviews the newest Bolaño:

“Nazi Literature in the Americas,” a wicked, invented encyclopedia of imaginary fascist writers and literary tastemakers, is Bolaño playing with sharp, twisting knives. As if he were Borges’s wisecracking, sardonic son, Bolaño has meticulously created a tightly woven network of far-right littérateurs and purveyors of belles lettres for whom Hitler was beauty, truth and great lost hope. Cross-referenced, complete with bibliography and a biographical list of secondary figures, “Nazi Literature” is composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have.

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

Vertigo, the blog dedicated to the work of Sebald, is re-printing an interview with Sebald that first appeared in a literary magazine in the UK in 2003:

Vertigo is pleased to be able to share the following interview with W.G. Sebald conducted by Jens Mühling in 2000, when Mühling was an MA student in comparative literature at the University of East Anglia. Although not a student of Sebald’s, Mühling thought that an article on the teaching of creative writing might be of interest to a German audience, where such classes are relatively unheard of. Ultimately, however, the interview was never published in Germany, but first saw the light of day in Pretext 7 (Spring/Summer 2003), a literary magazine formerly published at the University of East Anglia. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Only the first two parts are online today (the third is coming tomorrow).

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).

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

Alain Robbe Grillet, father of the Nouveau Roman, has died.

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

The exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, who is accused of insulting Islam, will be allowed to stay in India it emerged today – but only if she remains in a government flat in a secret location in Delhi, unable to receive visitors or step outside her door.

13 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The Prix Goncourt has decided to adopt an age limit (link goes to Le Monde). If you hit 80, you become an honorary member and can no longer vote. For those of you with some French:

Mardi 5 février, c’est à l’unanimité que les sept membres présents – seul Michel Tournier s‘était fait excuser – ont décidé de fixer un seuil à 80 ans pour tout nouveau juré élu. Passé cet âge, il deviendra automatiquement membre honoraire ; il perdra son droit de vote mais pourra toujours venir déjeuner chez Drouant et assister aux réunions mensuelles.

Are there that many jurors around the age of 80?

13 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The Guardian’s world literature tour visits Romania.

11 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen |

Eurozine’s marvelous Literary Perspectives series visits Estonia:

While the Great Estonian Novel has yet to be written, writes poet and critic Märt Väljataga, the range of fiction in Estonian is sufficiently wide to serve as an indicator of the hopes and fears, anxieties and obsessions, of post-communist Estonia. From the autobiographical to the historical realist and allegorical, Estonian novelists have successfully developed a variety of styles to respond to post-Cold War experience (though try telling that to the local librarian).

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

Our own Dubravka Ugresic has an essay in this week’s Telegraph:

A 10-year-old nephew of mine recently spent his Easter holidays with me in Amsterdam. I took him to the Anne Frank Museum.

He had never heard of Anne Frank. I tried to recall whether I had known of her when I was his age. Then my childhood diary came to mind. I had written to an imaginary friend in my diary and that imaginary friend’s name was Anne Frank.

Last year I spent two months teaching students of comparative literature at a German university. I was free to speak on whatever I liked. I soon realised that out of a natural desire to help the students follow me I was turning my lectures into a list of footnotes.

My students knew who Lacan and Derrida were, but the number of books they had read was astonishingly small. I would mention a name such as Czeslaw Milosz. My students did not know of Czeslaw Milosz. I would give them a word such as samizdat. It meant nothing to them.

A slightly different version of this essay will appear in Nobody’s Home, a collection of Dubravka’s essays we’re publishing this fall.

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

In their third number, Habitus magazine is featuring an interview with Jorge Luis Borges that was conducted in 1984 by Professor of Philosophy Tomás Abraham at the University of Buenos Aires. The interview has never before been translated into English. It’s short, but well worth the read:

Sometime ago I said that philosophy is a fantastic branch of study. But I didn’t mean anything against philosophy, on the contrary; it could be said, for example, that it was exactly the same [as poetry] maintaining that the syntax is from two distinct places, [and] that philosophy deserves a place in the order of aesthetics. If you look at theology or philosophy as fantastic literature, you’ll see that they are much more ambitious than the poets. For example, what works of poetry are comparable with something as astonishing as Spinoza’s god: an infinite substance endowed with infinite attributes?

Every philosophy creates a world with its own special laws, and these models may or may not be fantastic, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve entered into poetry, and also fables, that is, I’m not a novelist. I’ve read very few novels in my life; for me the foremost novelist is Joseph Conrad. I’ve never attempted a novel, but I’ve tried to write fables. I’ve dedicated my life to reading more than anything, and I’ve found that reading philosophical texts is no less pleasant than reading literary texts, and perhaps there is no essential difference between them.

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

Fifty years after he published Things Fall Apart, his first novel, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe recalls having modest hopes for the book. At the time, he was a young university graduate who had found a job at the Nigerian Broadcasting Company, in Lagos. “I was alone in my room, scribbling away, and if nobody had paid any attention at all to me, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised,” Achebe recalls with a quiet chuckle, here in his home on the campus of Bard College.

Yet the towering achievement of Things Fall Apart has been to become arguably the most influential work of fiction by an African writer. Since William Heinemann Ltd. first issued it in London, the novel has sold about 11 million copies in some 50 countries and as many languages. (This month Anchor Books will issue a 50th-anniversary edition.) In the United States, in an era of multiculturalism, it has become a fixture on college and high-school reading lists — for Americans, the quintessential novel about Africa. The influential critic Harold Bloom included it in 1994 in his selection of the canonical works of world literature, along with two of Achebe’s later novels dealing with Nigeria’s transition through colonization to troubled independent nationhood, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God.

4 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen |

The Waitress Was New is the first of French author Dominique Fabre’s novels to be translated into English. The novel is narrated by Pierre, a 56-year-old bartender who has been tending bar his entire adult life, more or less, and has spent the last eight years working at Le Cercle, a typical French café situated in the Parisian suburb of Asnières.

I’ve been fifty-six for three months now. My last birthday didn’t really get to me, but my fifty-fourth almost threw me into the Seine, if you’ll pardon the expression. I took a half-day off to see a prostate specialist and get my free checkup from Social Security, they couldn’t find anything wrong. That filled me with joy for two days, just long enough to pick up a nasty hangover. I thought about my dream again, then pushed it away with a shrug as I served a beer-and-Pincon to a guy from the MMA insurance office on Maurice-Bokanovksi, he has a pointy beard and a black suit. Sabrina calls him Landru. And after that I just kept right on going. Fortunately the new girl knew her job, because without the boss around it was hard work manning the bar. Amédée was in his unusual good mood, and Madeleine had to get after him a couple of times, nothing terribly serious, but the pass-through’s too small, the dining room was noisy that day. The boss’s wife wasn’t letting it get to her, she stayed behind the cash register the whole time, looking like she was thinking of something else, probably wondering where he could have got to, and keeping an eye on things like she always did, between chats with the regulars. Once or twice I caught her giving the ceiling a blank stare, the boss had it repainted two summers before, during the August closing. Since I hadn’t gone away on vacation that year—or the year before or the year after, for that matter—he’d asked me to keep tabs on the work, and I did. She had the dreamy look of a boss and wife whose marriage was heading steadily downhill if you asked me.

The novel follows Pierre’s life over the course of a few days, and opens with the opening of Le Cercle. The normal waitress, Sabrina, is out with the flu, and shortly after introducing the new waitress, the boss, Henri, sneaks off. Pierre and Henri’s wife Isabelle, who works the register, assume Henri has gone to spend time with his mistress, the ‘sick’ waitress Sabrina.

Fabre seems more interested in investigating the inner life of Pierre—albeit in the limited way that Pierre, who spends his life listening rather than talking, is able to describe his thoughts—and painting a small portrait of a group of working class people than in creating a complex plot, so there isn’t a lot of action in this slim volume. Pierre makes the briefest of enquiries when Henri doesn’t show up for a few days, and then comforts Isabelle. He has couscous with his long-time friend and fellow bartender, Roger, and keeps the café open in Henri’s absence for a few days. He has a fleeting interest in a couple of different women, but seems resigned to being alone at his age. He contemplates retiring, but discovers that he’s a few years away from qualifying for a full pension.

As I said, there aren’t a lot of fireworks, but as a portrait of a Pierre and his ‘everyman’ life, the novel is a success. The reserved, melancholy, and resigned tone that Fabre strikes is maintained beautifully throughout the book, and he has given Pierre just enough wit to lighten things up from time to time. And, in keeping with the ‘slice of life’ feel of the book, the slight twist at the end doesn’t bring any closure, rather it opens further possibilities which remain unexplored. This is a quiet book, but one that promises to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Overall, The Waitress Was New is well worth the long afternoon it takes to read. Hopefully, Archipelago plans to publish more of his novels in the future.

The Waitress Was New
by Dominique Fabre
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
117 pages, $15.00
978-0-9778576-9-2
Archipelago Books

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

I’ve never spent $17 on a magazine except once: the January 2007 issue of GQ Korea. I was in a Korean bookstore in Los Angeles, looking for Yi Sang’s fiction (I’ll talk about Yi Sang in detail later, such a weird, beautiful writer) when I saw the magazine, with Matt Damon on the cover. Anyways, I bought the magazine because it had a 10-pp interview with the elusive Haruki Murakami, who shuns interviews in general. Perhaps the fact that the interviewer was not a professional literary critic, but a journalism student at University of Hawaii, made Murakami warm up to her – I’ve never read any other Murakami interview in which he is as relaxed as he is in the GQ Korea interview. The interviewer’s name is Jin Young Lee, and I have no idea how she tracked Murakami down in Hawaii. I’ll be posting segments from her interview in three parts or so, in my hasty and imperfect translation.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

31 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [4]

This is something I’d like to do, but I don’t know that we’d be able to get everyone to go along with it:

But if I had known about The Pirate Coelho, a blog, established by the million-selling author himself, I might not have wasted my money on the Alchemist after all. You see, Coelho has been happily “pirating” his own work for years, spreading electronic versions of his novels over the BitTorrent filesharing network for potential readers to download. The pirate blog encourages potential readers to seek out the electronic versions—in several language translations—by helpfully providing links to the files. He recently told a conference that rather than hurt his sales, this act of self-piracy has actually sent them through the roof.

Our problem isn’t that we’re going to sell a million books, and that these free electronic editions would be cutting into our sales. Our problem is getting attention for our authors and getting people to put the books in their hands. Giving readers a chance to test the waters in this way—free, online, accessible—could only help.

30 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Thirteen people have been arrested in Turkey as part of an investigation into an ultra-nationalist gang reported to be planning the assassination of Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

29 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian provides a brief overview of the stories of Etgar Keret:

As an author, film director, playwright, TV scriptwriter, graphic novelist and university lecturer, Etgar Keret has been a ubiquitous figure on Israel’s cultural scene since the publication of his second collection of short stories, Ga’agui Le’Kissinger (published in English last year as Missing Kissinger), in 1994.

Typically just a few pages long, Keret’s stories are punchy, imaginatively audacious and often very funny, his humour lying between Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce. The son of Holocaust survivors, with an ultra-Orthodox sister and an anarchist brother, it is perhaps predictable that his work should be so resolutely non-ideological.

28 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Andrew Malcovsky is this week’s Three Percent Hero. He’s translating, and posting online for free, a collection of Karel Capek’s (novelist, co-inventor of the word ‘robot’, and brother to Josef Capek, artist and book cover designer) short stories and occasional pieces:

Obviously, this is my page for the unfoldment of Fables and Understories, a posthumous collection of Karel Capek short pieces. I plan on updating it until it’s done. I do plan on releasing my work under some sort of CC license and updating the text’s accessibility (one file, .pdf, etc); I need to do some research first. Ooo, and prepare footnotes, which are harder to employ in a blog post.

Go visit and enjoy.

24 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Sven Birkerts writes about Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and Hunger in the new Bookforum:

A young man’s book, an old man’s book; the former an almost unremitting hallucination, the latter like something carved with patience into an obdurate oak. Hunger unfolds its unbroken inwardness in urban Christiana (now Oslo), “that strange city no one escapes from until it has left its mark on him,” over several seasons, though it also delves to touch a timelessness known to most of us only from dreams and illness. Growth of the Soil populates a simple square of rural canvas and fulfills its narration of labor’s travails and hard-won triumphs over many decades. The novel, sharply and sensuously rendered by Sverre Lyngstad, enacts a lifetime’s forward plod, though Hamsun’s strategic moments of omniscient retrospect (“Great changes at Sellanrå”) every so often telescope long years down until they seem but a cosmic eyeblink.

23 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Benjamin Lytal reviews Imre Kertész’s Detective Story for the New York Sun:

“Detective Story” (1977) is another sort of tale altogether — except that, then again, it isn’t. Set in an unnamed Latin American country, the new novel, which was Mr. Kertész’s third in Hungarian, spins a deeply self-conscious web of psychological drama that should be familiar to any of Mr. Kertész’s readers. Like them, it is a very brief book, one that you could breeze through, if you wanted, without noticing its delicacy. As we learn from the opening chapter, “Detective Story” presents the testimony of a low-level intelligence agent, brought to justice now that the dictator he served has fallen. Antonio Martens presumably faces death for crimes against humanity, and most specifically for the deaths of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, father and son, two famous industrialists executed, without evidence, by Martens and his colleagues.

23 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Scott points out an 8-book overview-review of Javier Marias’s novels in the NYRB.

Above all Marìas’s novels are concerned with the processes of telling, with what it means to tell and not to tell, with the bonds we establish or dissolve by telling, with the ways telling may either release us from the past or seal us in it. “One should never tell anyone anything,” Deza declares in the opening sentence of Your Face Tomorrow, but then proceeds to tell us all he does and thinks, and he makes of that telling a compulsive and enthralling performance; for he is one of those people on whom nothing is lost.

23 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Until February 29th, 2008 you can subscribe to Absinthe: New European Writing for two years (or extend your subscription) for only $20* and receive an additional year (two issues) FREE! That’s three years (six issues) for only $20.*

22 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Over at Critical Mass, they’re doing a series of blog posts about the NBCC finalists. The first is about Anna Politkovskaya’s A Russian Diary...

“A Russian Diary” is a posthumous testimonial to Politkovskaya’s reportorial skills and her despair about what has happening to her country. Drawn from the journals she kept between December 2003 and August 2005, it frames Putin’s reelection as a rigged event that, among other things, pulled the curtain on how the government responded after Chechen terrorists took hostages in a Moscow theater in 2002. Politkovskaya, who went to Chechnya 39 times as a reporter for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, had been called in to try to negotiate with the hostage takers, but to no avail. Russian forces stormed the theater, killing not only the terrorists but also 130 of the 912 hostages. She held the government accountable.

...which reminded me of Arkady Babchenko’s One Soldier’s War. It was released yesterday from Grove, and is about Babchenko’s experience fighting the Chechen War. I read an excerpt of this on submission a few years ago (didn’t get the book, unfortunately), and I’ve been dying to read the whole translation ever since. It’s an incredibly written, macabre, and stark look at a war which few of us in the West hear anything about.

There was an excerpt of One Soldier’s War in Harper’s this month, which you can read online if you’re a subscriber. Seriously, go buy it.

22 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian has a ‘digested read’ of Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl:

The most notable event of the summer of 1950 was the arrival in Miraflores of two flamboyant Chilean sisters. I was just 15 and fell in love with the older one, Lily, like a calf. We were inseparable; we held hands, though she teased me with her kisses. “Never on the lips, Ricardito.” Then she disappeared without saying goodbye. The rumour was that she wasn’t an exotic Chilean; she was a Peruvian from the slums. Yet I never forgot her.

21 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Financial Times reviews Naguib Mahfouz’s final novel, Morning and Evening Talk:

In Morning and Evening Talk, his last novel, he sets the bar high, refusing all the classical unities. Instead of rooting his story in one place, he flits between Cairo and the countryside. Instead of following a chronology, he races back and forth along a 200-year timeline. And instead of one story, he offers us 67. Each takes the form of an informal obituary – a life as it might be described by a wise neighbour. Together they describe the fortunes of three families joined by friendship, feuds and marriage. But the pieces of the jigsaw never make a picture. They swim in and out of each other’s lives so fast and so often that any mental map we might have half-constructed soon dissolves. The only organising principle is the Arabic alphabet. Each chapter carries the name of a character and they appear in alphabetical order.

I think this may be the first review of the book, which was published last October in the US.

21 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Over the coming year, an international panel chosen by The Globe and Mail will select the 50 Greatest Books ever written. Each week, a single work will be discussed by an expert or a writer passionate about the work in question. This is the second in the series.

This week, they’re talking about In Search of Lost Time.

21 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Here is your chance to weigh in on one of the most troubling dilemmas in contemporary literary culture. I know I’m hopelessly conflicted about it. It’s the question of whether the last unpublished work of Vladimir Nabokov, which is now reposing unread in a Swiss bank vault, should be destroyed—as Nabokov explicitly requested before he died.

17 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

André Schiffrin in Eurozine on the (all-too-familiar) recent history of the French publishing industry.

The problem that arises in all these countries is: when you have bought a company that makes two or three per cent you want it to make ten or twelve per cent. Hachette wants ten per cent; Editis wants fifteen, as does Bertelsmann. The consequences can be felt at every level, beginning with the choice of books to be published, the print-runs required and, in the end, redundancies. For the first time in Western Europe, ideas are being evaluated, not in terms of their importance, but in terms of their profitability.

Of course with everything there is opportunity. Open Letter hopes to live in this space:

This is a very serious kind of censorship and one that is very difficult to bypass. Nevertheless there is, in all of this, a note of optimism. . .This is the setting up, all over the place, of small publishing companies that welcome books which, for ideological reasons, have been refused by major publishers.

17 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Richard Lea has a two-part [ 1, 2 ] overview of the literary scene in China in The Guardian:

The world’s most populous nation, the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials, and now the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, China strides irresistibly towards its economic and political destiny. But as Beijing prepares for its Olympic extravaganza this summer, the cultural life of the 1.3 billion people who live and work in this economic superpower remains a closed book to many in the west – their bestselling authors unfamiliar, their most exciting writers untranslated.

We’ve done some thinking about China—it’s a huge oversight to miss out on publishing a book from a country of 1.5 billion people—but, based on the article, the publishing industry there sounds even more complicated that Japan’s, which is almost indescribable.

This is at least partly because of the unique constitution of the Chinese publishing industry. “Officially, publishing is still an activity reserved to the state. So unlike, say, printing or bookselling, no private or foreign direct participation is allowed,” explains Richardson. There are some 570 state publishing houses, which until recently were insulated from the vicissitudes of the market. “Now they are ‘cultural enterprises’, are expected to become financially independent and are allowed to compete in each others’ patches.”

As always in China, Richardson continues, “things are more complicated than they would appear at an official level”. Alongside the state houses are “cultural studios”, private publishers that supply creative input for the state houses (which is legal), or simply buy ISBNs and publish themselves (which is not). “Meanwhile foreign publishers also cannot participate directly, but all the major international publishing companies have some form of representation in China and many have worked out forms of co-operation with Chinese partners that get under the wire.”

We won’t give up, but it’s an uphill battle—and that’s not considering all the other hurdles in making something like this happen. China is the guest of honor at Frankfurt in 2009 (It’s sad to say we’ll be waiting this long to find a book from China to publish. I hope it’s not the case.) and we’ll definitely find a book (or two or three) at the fair.

15 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Here’s a map of the languages of Europe. Click the map to see the legend.

14 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In the face of unbridled lust for power, withdrawal from the world will fail, whether to the bourgeois’ fortified home, the philosopher’s intellectual retreat, or the dreamer’s imaginative world. Krasznahorkai doesn’t offer this as a political or moral lesson, however, but rather explores the consequences for individuals, whose depths are remorselessly revealed to us.

14 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Carl Henrik Fredriksson argues for a re-transnationalization of literary criticism in Eurozine, and recalls the almost-impossible-to-believe, and not-so-distant, past of literary criticism in Europe:

In fact, during some periods and in some places, the discussion of foreign literature was so extensive and lively that it turned into a problem for the publishing business. In 1953, Åke Runnquist, editor of BLM, one of Sweden’s most influential literary journals, grumbled about the daily newspapers writing too much and too early about foreign language books. Many books were being reviewed on the very day they appeared in the original language, wrote Runnquist. The downside to this alertness, he continued, was that when these books appeared in translation – and most did! – public discussion about them had already subsided and as a result the translations did not sell as well as they could or should have.

Two years later, in 1955, Runnquist repeated his lamentation – but not without a certain amount of satisfaction that some of the bigger newspapers had started to face up to their responsibility and review important foreign language books twice: when they were first published in the original language and again when the translation appeared.

10 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Geist Magazine has a piece on a Spanish instructor at the University of Guelph who was hired to ‘translate’ an American-produced introductory Spanish book into Canadian.

One U.S. textbook dismisses NAFTA with a photograph of a harried-looking Mexican woman leaning over a sewing machine, accompanied by the caption: “This woman is happy because she owes her job to NAFTA.”

9 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Paris Blog salutes the 100th anniversary of the birth of Simone de Beauvoir, collecting several links to some interesting content (mostly in French) about the author, including some excellent old video clips.

8 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Bookslut reviews Imre Kertesz’s Detective Story:

As a chronicler of the Holocaust and its aftermath, Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertesz allows no redemption and no transcendence. If you cry while reading Fatelessness or Kaddish for an Unborn Child, you’ll cry bitter, furious tears, but most likely, you won’t be able cry at all. A terrible white ball of impossibility will grow in your throat and pinch your mind and your soul. His approach to life after Auschwitz is closer to Primo Levi’s (whose poem “Kaddish” curses those who go about their daily lives without considering atrocity, and who portrays the Holocaust not as some historical aberration, but as the truth about humanity) than to Roberto Benigni’s (whose Life is Beautiful was the favorite movie of Pope John Paul II). Even when Kertesz isn’t writing about Auschwitz, he’s writing about Auschwitz.

3 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

BBC4’s radio program In Our Time has a show dedicated to the life and work of Albert Camus. The Real Player link they provide to the show doesn’t work, but the podcast link appears to be OK.

Shortly after the new year of 1960, a small family car crashed in the French town of Villeblevin in Burgundy, killing two of its occupants. One was the publisher Michel Gallimard; the other was the writer Albert Camus. In Camus’ pocket was an unused train ticket and in the boot of the car his unfinished autobiography The First Man.

Via This French Life.

3 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

PEN announced the first event of the 2008 PEN World Voices Festival. There isn’t any news about other participants, or events, yet, but we’ll keep you posted.

The Three Musketeers Reunited:
Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa

When: Friday, May 2
bq. Where: 92nd St. Y: New York City
bq. What time: 7:30 p.m.

PEN is excited to make the first event announcement of the 2008 World Voices Festival. The event will feature three literary heavyweights appearing at the 92nd Street Y for a special repeat performance. On October 10, 1995, London’s Royal Festival Hall hosted a historic night of readings by three of the world’s most distinguished writers: Umberto Eco from Italy, British-Indian Salman Rushdie, and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru. At dinner afterwards, Eco anointed the trio as The Three Musketeers. Now, twelve years later, the PEN World Voices Festival, in collaboration with the Poetry Center, is proud to present The Three Musketeers together again for one unforgettable evening.

The Three Musketeers Reunited will take place on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

3 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian provides a short history of Granta:

Buford then performed a clever trick. For Issue 7 he seized upon an initiative of the Book Marketing Council to promote the Best of Young British Novelists, and a whole new publishing gimmick was born. The list included Amis, McEwan, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro and Pat Barker. This list was repeated a decade later in 1993 (Alan Hollinghurst, Hanif Kureishi and Esther Freud) and 2003 (Zadie Smith, Nicola Barker and David Mitchell), and worked for young American writers as well. To be on this first roster in 1983 promised a certain amount of attention, not least as it was the first Granta to be distributed by Penguin. Adam Mars-Jones, who holds the unique position of being on the list in 1983 and 1993 despite never producing a novel, believes it kept his literary ambitions alive. ‘It certainly helped me stay marginally above freezing point,’ he says. ‘It extended your sell-by date.’

21 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Whoever said that reading was a religious experience was right, especially when taking a visit to Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, Netherlands.

20 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Steven Kellman at Critical Mass has a nice little piece on Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, which is one of my favorite books:

However, what continues to enlighten and inspire me more than the lectures on individual novels are the introductory and concluding chapters, in which Nabokov sets forth his views on how and why to read. He dismisses as childish the desire to identify with fictional characters rather than the mind that created them, and he insists that reading literature requires “an artist’s passion and a scientist’s patience.” He contends that literature lacks any practical value and that its only — and transcendent — justification is the tingle it produces when a book we are reading takes hold of us physically, from the brain down through the spine. In the final words that he delivered to his students at the close of each semester, and that I often peddle to my own students, Nabokov proclaims that, “We are liable to miss the best of life if we do not know how to tingle, if we do not learn to hoist ourselves just a little higher than we generally are in order to sample the rarest and ripest fruit of art which human thought has to offer.” Lectures on Literature passes the tingle test.

The other two books in the series, Lectures on Russian Literature and Lectures on Don Quixote, are excellent as well.

20 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

right reading is starting a brief series on the plight of independent book publishing in the US. Today they detail the history of merger and acquisition.

It’s easy to get so immersed in a subject that you lose track of how much of it is generally known. alfred a. knopfI’ve been talking about the difficulties of independent publishing for so long that it began to seem to me that the subject was common knowledge. Then a comment on this blog made me realize that I needed to take a step back. So, over the next few days, I will do a quick overview of the plight of the independent book publisher.

17 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The National Library of Austria has acquired the papers of Peter Handke for 500,000 euros.

17 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Three poems by Adonis, the perennial Nobel candidate, in Guernica.

17 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A former magazine editor has caused a sensation in Parisian literary circles with a memoir exposing the “love triangle” she shared with Françoise Sagan and the famous novelist’s boyfriend.

The relationship between Annick Geille, a former editor of French Playboy, and the wayward, waif-like Sagan was an open secret in Paris and the first detailed account of it has stirred nostalgia among literati for a time when French writers were feted worldwide and seemed much more colourful. “From these beautiful pages,” wrote a critic of Geille’s book, Un Amour de Sagan, “wafts the strange perfume of a time lost for ever.”

17 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Absinthe points us to no man’s land, an online journal dedicated to German translations. We’re a tiny bit late to the game, as this is their 2nd issue, but better late than never. According to the site, they are: “more than just an online literary magazine, no man’s land is an information resource and forum for the German- and English-speaking literary communities in Berlin and beyond.”

The 2nd issue features pieces by Julia Franck and Clemens Meyer.

14 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Ed Hirsch reviews a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in this week’s NYT Sunday Book Review:

There have been dozens of translations of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” over the years. J. R. R. Tolkien’s authoritative edition was a gift to readers, though his own translation now seems somewhat flowery. Marie Borroff did an alliterative version that holds up after 40 years. Ted Hughes translated some key sections, newly available in his “Selected Translations,” which marvelously recreate the Gawain poet’s alliterative long line. Five years ago, W. S. Merwin published a learned, lyrical translation. Now Simon Armitage has given us an energetic, free-flowing, high-spirited version. He reminds us that “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” still wields an uncanny power after 600 years. We’re fortunate that “our coffers have been crammed / with stories such as these.”

13 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Unfortunately, we don’t read Russian, but this sounds like an incredible project:

In August, LitKarta, the most important Russian literature related website, came into existence. LitKarta is the brainchild of Dmitry Kuzmin (one of the most productive curators of contemporary Russian literature). Kuzmin’s idea was to create a site that would help Russian authors, from different regions, be aware of each others’ work. The idea is now a reality, and the project is huge!

Russia is made up of eighty-five regions (some of which are larger than Texas), and each region has its own capital. Because of Russia’s enormous size it is often easier to focus on Moscow and St. Petersburg than to search the provinces for the next Velimir Khlebnikov.

13 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Voices from Open Translation Tools 2007 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Via EZ

12 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In Eurozine:

This essay offers a modest contribution to such a literary history of anti-Americanism. The period discussed is the interwar years, which is indisputably one of the high-water marks in the history of European hatred of America, not only in terms of intensity, but also in terms of what might be called the discursive inventiveness. Anti-American discourse consists at any given time of both traditional and innovative elements: on the one hand it recycles and varies familiar, time-honoured motifs; on the other hand it develops new motifs, which typically target aspects of the contemporary United States, thereby bringing the discourse up to date with present-day reality. The traditional core of anti-Americanism was developed by the Romantics, who in the first half of the nineteenth century drew up a basic vocabulary of prejudices concerning the lack of history and culture, the vulgarity, the materialism, the corruption, the subtle forms of bondage, and the hypocrisy in the United States (Gulddal 2007). These notions have never lost their appeal; they have been passed on from generation to generation and were thus also repeated incessantly throughout Europe in the interwar period. At the same time, however, this period gives rise to an impressive array of new anti-American prejudices, all of which represent the United States as the quintessence of a traumatic, unbridled modernity that presages the future, if not the destruction, of Europe. It is above all these discursive novelties that are analysed in this essay from the point of view of literary history.

12 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This is one of my favorite things on the internet (seriously). Every season, signandsight.com puts out a list of the ‘best books’ that have come out in Germany recently. It’s a great resource for us. Even though the list is usually pretty small, there’s always one book that gets me excited. This season, it’s Mircea Cartarescu’s The Knowing:

Romanian author Mircea Cartarescu has “catapulted himself to the summit of European literature” with his novel “Die Wissenden” (the knowing), proclaims the NZZ. High time, then, that he was discovered in Germay, althought it’s not all so easy to say exactly what this book – which takes palce in Bucharest during the socialist era – is about. “Sometimes I explain my book as a mystical butterfly or a flying cathedral,” says the author. Critics are overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of content, as well as the variety of genres Cartarescu masters, yet they still can’t agree on how to classify the book. The NZZ calls it a “masterpiece of literary mannerism” – “as if de Chirico and Kafka, H. R. Giger and Bruno Schulz had got together and written a novel.” The FR, by contrast, is reminded more of Proust, Rilke and Swift. (Read our review feature “Bucharest in a trance.”)

Based on that blurb, it sounds like Yuri Andrukhovych’s Perverzion, which is one of the most incredibly imaginative books I’ve ever read. You can get Cartarescu’s Nostalgia in English, from New Directions, of course.

11 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian mourns the death of Icelandic-English translator Bernard Scudder…

Translators are the neglected stepchildren of literature, considered lucky if they get their names on a book’s title page or receive a small share of an award. This state of affairs was never more apparent than earlier this month, when news slowly trickled out about the recent death of Bernard Scudder, the Iceland-based translator of works by award-winning and best-selling crime writers Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigudardottir. Had Indridason passed, his obituary would have appeared online and in newspapers within a few days of his death. Scudder was not nearly so fortunate. All we know is that Scudder died suddenly on October 15, that he was married, and that Harvill Secker, Indridason’s UK publisher, commented in a statement that they held Scudder’s work “in high regard and that he was a pleasure to work with.”

10 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Alissa Valles on the poet she translated, Zbigniew Herbert:

Until recently, visitors to Kraków, Poland, might have easily stumbled across a bit of graffiti on the ancient wall surrounding the Old Town. “We Will Fulfill Herbert’s Testament,” the text read, referring to Zbigniew Herbert, a poet of national pride and international fame. When I visited the poet Czeslaw Milosz in 2001, at the beginning of a long residency in Poland, he welcomed my naïve delight at the graffiti with a full-bellied laugh and the remark that it had probably been the work of nationalist thugs.

Indeed, while some of us would like to see Herbert’s poetry and prose as his true “testament,” any conversation about the poet’s legacy since his death in 1998 has inevitably also been about state power and democracy, the idea of the left and the fate of liberalism, preserving national identity in the face of imperial or commercial incursion, and maintaining clarity of thought and expression in an era of public lies. All of these things make Herbert particularly relevant for American readers now. But it is also vital for us to see that the poet himself drew a clear line between poetry and politics, and why. Poets in the West often envy the cultural authority of their Eastern European colleagues. But the hurdles politics imposes on fresh and serious readings of literary work are often not well-understood.

7 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Dedi gives her last report from the Miami Book Fair, summing up some translation recommendations from the agent’s buzz panel.

4 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Czechs want to build a new national library.

They’d like it to look like this:

Purple and yellow.

4 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Puskin Press has been translating the novels of Antal Szerb, and Alberto Manguel is very appreciative:

Szerb’s first novel exulted in the absurdity of life while his last despaired over it. His most well-known work, Journey by Moonlight, written in 1937, maintained a powerful tension between both. As his translator Len Rix points out in his afterword, at the tragic end of his life Szerb was confronted with the choice he had lent his own characters, “between living out the role he had been so cruelly allotted, and the chance to flee”. The hero of The Pendragon Legend escapes into the world, whereas King Oliver retreats into the fate decreed for him. Szerb, in spite of seeing his scholarly work banned and being forced to pass off Oliver VII as a translation from the English to get it published, refused the offer to emigrate to the US because he didn’t want to abandon his family, his friends or his home country Hungary.

Uncork your best Tokay to toast the Pushkin Press for publishing these translations. May Szerb’s re-entrance into our literary pantheon be definitive.

Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight is just fantastic, and I recommend you put it on you to-read list right away.

3 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The distancing of the Russian provinces from Moscow has thus far brought little change to the intellectual provincialism of the regions. Only the rocky Urals have turned out to provide fertile soil for a cultural blossoming. There are in particular three literary figures from the Urals who need fear no comparison with modern writers from other areas: Alexei Ivanov, 38, from Perm; Igor Sakhnovsky, 50, from Yekaterinburg, and Olga Slavnikova. These authors are noteworthy for the variety of genres in which they work – short stories, historical novels, intellectual thrillers, fantasy, social-issue novels – and for their stylistic mastery, richness of language and use of local colour. Even eroticism, which tends to be denigrated in literary circles today as almost an outdated, compulsively repetitious theme, makes an unexpected comeback in Sakhnovsky’s short story collection, “The Happy and the Mad” (2003). The intensity and refinement of treatment, the striking freshness and casualness of the erotic experience, prompt the reader to virtually swallow the book down at a gulp.

3 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who wrote about the pain of loss under his country’s military juntas, has won the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s top literary award.

3 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Well, can you?

3 December 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian on Joseph Conrad on the 150th anniversary of his birth:

“I have never learned to trust it. I can’t trust it to this day … A dreadful doubt hangs over the whole achievement of literature.” Thus wrote Joseph Conrad, in an essay published in the Manchester Guardian Weekly on December 4 1922. Long before Auden was telling us poetry makes nothing happen, or Adorno was saying there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, Conrad was questioning – fundamentally – the political and moral utility of writing. Yet this was a writer who drew the approbation of FR Leavis, the pre-eminent British supporter of the view that literature could play a role in the maintenance of civilisation. In 1941, Leavis described Conrad as being “among the very greatest novelists in the language – or any language”.

28 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Went to the Sebald panel that the Mercantile Library hosted to kick off the publication of The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald (Seven Stories), edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. First of all, the library is beautiful, and I can’t believe I didn’t even know about its existence prior to last night. It caters almost exclusively to fiction, its shelves stuffed with great fiction and literary journals. Check out their events and book groups if you’re in NYC. One hundred bucks per year will get you membership and access to the space, well worth the price, I think.

28 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A.S. Byatt reviews Adam Thirwell’s Miss Herbert in the Financial Times:

Miss Herbert is a thoughtful, and frequently hilarious, study of the nature of literary translation. It is also a work of art, a new form. Juliet Herbert was the English governess of Flaubert’s niece, Caroline. She wrote a translation of Madame Bovary, which Flaubert approved, and which has disappeared, unread. This ghost is a central character in a tale of conversations between writers, languages and forms.

Flaubert’s carefully wrought style, his “mania for sentences”, makes him in one sense untranslatable. The same could be argued of James Joyce’s layered wordplay, local detail and complicated rhythms. Novelist Adam Thirlwell, the author of Politics, discusses the tension between literal translation of words and attempts to translate a “style”. He argues that – always with some slippage or accidents – styles can be translated and transmitted. He has a cosmopolitan taste in novels, and describes his own canon, ranging from Cervantes to Machado de Assis, from Italo Svevo who was taught English by Joyce, to Witold Gombrowicz and Bohumil Hrabal.

It sounds like a really interesting book. Politics was published by HarperCollins/Fourth Estate in the US, but I doubt that they’ll be picking up this one. I wonder if anyone here will (or already has)?

27 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This is really old, but since it’s new to me I thought it might be new to some of you as well. Michael Silverblatt interviewed W. G. Sebald in 2001 on Bookworm.

I’m listening to it now.

Via Vertigo.

26 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

20 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

In Guernica, David Ungar tells of how he became a ghostwriter for Gabriel García Márquez:

It’s a brisk October day in 1975. I’m 24, driving through Central Park with Gabriel García Márquez. As we wend our way through the park, and exit on Central Park West, I am utterly dumbstruck, afraid I’ll say something stupid to the man whose work, more than any other’s, inspired me to become a writer of fiction. García Márquez today, it hardly bears repeating, is secure in his reputation as one of the great writers of our time. He is the author of 100 Years of Solitude, which has sold 30 million copies in 35 languages; a new genre, magical realism, was spawned by this work. His bestselling Love in the Time of Cholera has been turned into a film, which opens this week in theaters. And he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, of course, in 1982. But in 1975, he is simply my idol.

20 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Esther Allen—traductrice extraordinaire and Executive Director of the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia University—has a piece in The Guardian on reader’s reports.

The reader’s report struggles to swim against this current but also has to take it into account. It’s a bit like being an admissions officer at the world’s most selective institution: even the Nobel prize for literature is no guarantee you’ll get in. The bar has to be set terribly high because every translation into English that fails to sell makes its publisher that much less likely to do another one. Worse, the power of a reader’s report is almost entirely negative. Barbara Epler of New Directions famously decided to publish the great WG Sebald on the strength of a negative reader’s report, but in general a bad report guarantees that a book won’t be published. A good report, however, is likely to be ignored. Worst of all, even when a good report does lead to publication—and the publisher finds a translator who’s up to the task—the translated book will probably be left to its own devices in the marketplace, with little or no publicity, and will therefore ultimately be deemed a failure. All of which leaves those of us who write reader’s reports in a rather ambiguous position.

Reader’s reports are something we rely on too. Analyzing them, and making decisions based on them, is far more art than science. I suppose it’s like any kind of review that you’d read of a movie or a CD: it isn’t necessarily what they say that interests you or pushes you away, or even the way they say what they say, but, like Barbara Epler and Sebald, a good reader’s report will allow you to see how you will relate to the book. And, sad as it is to say, a reader’s report is sometimes the only thing we have to go on.

20 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Some of the ‘Acts’ are a little meh, and I’m particularly sick of everyone comparing everything to 1984, but there are some goodies about Amazon’s new Kindle, which I expect to have completely forgotten in 6 months time.

Act I: The act of buying

When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.

Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author’s Guild, 2002

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007

Apropos of the link, I’m starting to get the feeling that 1984 is like palm reading or a horoscope: if you want to see a point of comparison between your day and your horoscope (or between 1984 and…anything), you just need to look hard enough.

via Daring Fireball.

19 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Amazon launched their sinfully ugly e-book reader, the Kindle, today. Click here to get the complete list of books available for the $400 device, which is saddled, sadly, with DRM.

Newsweek was nice enough to allow them to advertise their Kindle on its cover this week, if you want to read about it. I was following the live blog of the launch event on Endgaget and some of the things Mr. Bezos said in launching the device were nearly the same as the quotes attributed to him in the Newsweek article.

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

I know, I know. We’re always on about this War and Peace thing, but in the upcoming New Yorker James Wood writes one of the best reviews of War and Peace I’ve read from the batch that have followed the latest translations. It’s the good kind of review; the kind that makes you want to pick up the book again.

Here’s a little from what he had to say about the translation:

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation gives us new access to the spirit and order of the book. Literary translators tend to divide into what one could call originalists and activists. The former honor the original text’s quiddities, and strive to reproduce them as accurately as possible in the translated language; the latter are less concerned with literal accuracy than with the transposed musical appeal of the new work. Any decent translator must be a bit of both. Though Tolstoy has been well served in English, his translators, like Constance Garnett, Rosemary Edmonds, and Aylmer and Louise Maude, have tended to be somewhat activist, sidestepping difficult words, smoothing the rhythm of the Russian, and eliminating one of Tolstoy’s most distinctive elements, repetition. Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are justly celebrated for their translations of Dostoyevsky, are closer to the originalist camp than to the activist. Without being Nabokovians (Nabokov used such clanking words as “mollitude” in his outlandishly literal translation of “Eugene Onegin,” and insisted on calling Stiva Oblonsky, in “Anna Karenina,” “Steve”), they want the English to sound as close to the Russian as possible, and they are fervent about the importance of “roughening up” their versions when the Russian demands it. Translation is not a transfer of meaning from one language to another, Pevear writes, but a dialogue between two languages.

And here’s my favorite bit from the review:

Perhaps Tolstoy really didn’t know where to start or end. He had originally wanted to write about 1856, and a patrician revolutionary’s return to Russian life from long Siberian exile. He himself had bitter experience of the mood of futility that characterized the years just after the pointless blundering of the Crimean War. He had fought in the Crimea, had witnessed the bloody suttee of that campaign, where men willingly sacrificed themselves on the national pyre, and for nothing. His “Sebastopol Sketches” lucidly described the opacities of war. In order to write well about 1856, however, he felt that he needed to go back to 1825, when the upper-class rebels known as the Decembrists were executed and exiled. But 1825 could not be evoked, Tolstoy explained in a note, without the great year 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia and occupied Moscow for four weeks. And 1812 would need 1805 as preparation, which is when the novel opens.

Is it me, or is Ecco’s ‘original edition’ fading further into the distance with every passing week, as more and more attention is lavished on the Pevear & Volokhonsky edition?

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

This is something that is particularly interesting to us, as we’re still deciding on how exactly to package our books. Picador—following what seems to me to be a growing trend—is going paperback.

Now Picador, an imprint of Pan MacMillan, the 8th largest publisher in the UK, which has authors such as Helen Fielding, Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy on its books, has called time on what it describes as “a moribund market”. From next year it will launch almost every new novel as a £7.99 paperback, with other large publishers expected to follow.

The decision to scrap the system of selling a hardback a year before releasing the paperback has created waves in the publishing world, and is seen by some as the beginning of the end of the format in literary fiction.

19 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Columbia Magazine has an interview with Orhan Pamuk:

Zanganeh: So you decided to live with your mother and write.

Pamuk: Yes, until I was 30 I didn’t earn a single kopek, and I lived at my divorced mother’s house. I lived the strange life of a crazy boy who might one day become a writer. My friends had real jobs. I just wrote, and I could never get published. I was so ashamed, but I was also stubborn. Today my books are translated into 40 languages, but the strange truth is that the most difficult thing for me was to get published in my own language.

via 3QD.

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

Signandsight.com has a translated review of Dojczland by the Polish author Andrzej Stasiuk, which is apparently topping the bestseller lists in Poland:

As well as scrutinising today’s Germans, this slim volume – just 112 pages – also picks apart the Poles. At first glance it seems to be a travel book. Stasiuk describes what he experienced, saw and thought as he criss-crossed Germany on a reading tour. But in fact he draws a sophisticated double portrait of the Germans and the Poles with flights of sarcasm and a wonderful sense of grotesque. At one point he writes in an apparently innocuous tone: “Travelling in Germany is psychoanalysis.”

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

Over at Words Without Borders, Dedi Felman has some thoughts on last week’s Miami Book Fair International/Translation Market.

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

The Santa Cruz Sentinel writes a love letter to Edwin Frank and the New York Review of Books Classics series. We couldn’t agree more.

via complete review

15 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Iran’s straight-laced censors are not known for their tolerance of sexually risque literature, so a book called A Memory of My Melancholy Whores was never likely to meet with their approval.

But in their determination to get Gabriel García Márquez’s highly acclaimed work into the bookshops, local publishers hit on an audacious ruse – they sanitised its title.

As a result, the normally vigilant gaze of culture and Islamic guidance ministry officials was averted when a novel by the Nobel prize-winning author innocuously titled Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts was submitted and accordingly authorised for publication.

15 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Today is PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer.

On November 15 each year International PEN stages the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. PEN members do what they can to “raise public awareness of the plight of their colleagues worldwide,” writing protest appeals, staging events, and calling attention to imprisoned writers around the globe. Five writers in particular are selected “to represent the global spread of the problems as well as to illustrate the types of attacks.”

This year, the five writers are: Zargana (Myanmar/Burma), Normando Hernández González (Cuba), Fatou Jaw Manneh (Gambia), Yaghoub Yadali (Iran), and Dzamshid Karimov (Uzbekistan).

14 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Full-Tilt, “a journal of East Asian, poetry, translation and the arts”, which is completely new to me (and I guess everyone else, as this is their second issue), has an interview with Howard Goldblatt. The issue features several other interviews with translators as well.

Howard Goldblatt has all but single-handedly introduced contemporary Chinese-language literature to the English-speaking world. With over thirty volumes of Chinese fiction in translation to his name as well as several memoirs and a volume of poetry in translation, Goldblatt continually seeks out new talent to introduce to English-speaking readers while maintaining a commitment to more established writers. His shortlist of literary translations reads like a “Who’s Who” of important contemporary authors from China and Taiwan.

He has some interesting things to say about the art of translation (I’m tempted to quote so much more, but follow the link for the good stuff):

What are some of the problems specific to translating from Chinese into English?

Not knowing Chinese well enough, not knowing English well enough. Actually, not knowing Chinese well enough isn’t a big problem—you can always ask someone. You can ask your author, you can ask your friends. No, the thing that’s really killing translation in our field is literalism. Too many translators are afraid of the text, especially when they’re first starting out. And I understand that, because I was too. They’re all afraid of the text. You need to overcome your fear of the text, put some distance between you and it. You have to because Chinese and English are so different. Take the use of the passive voice, for example, which just runs through the Chinese language. Five different agents for the passive voice! We only have one. And the Chinese use it all the time. It is part of the language, part of the way they express themselves. But if you use it that much in English—God!

So how do you handle linguistic problems like this?

My watchword is: did the Chinese writer write it that way for a particular purpose or did his language dictate it be that way? If it’s the latter, then I put it into whatever my language dictates it should be. If I assume that it’s idiosyncratic, that the author was trying to defamiliarize the text, to slow the reader down, then I try very much to capture that.

via the ALTA blog.

14 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

This isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought to before, but:

Wherever you go, men and women tend to speak differently. But in Japan, those differences are more pronounced than in many places. Among the multilayered rules of grammar and usage governing spoken Japanese, there also exist underlying concepts of “men’s Japanese” and “women’s Japanese.” By the end of my 2-1/2-year stay there, I had unwittingly become conversant in the latter form.

Like many Western men who spend more than a year in Japan, I learned most of my intonation, expressions, and slang – the things not taught in the classroom – by mimicking a Japanese girlfriend.

I thought my Japanese was fine, while in reality the effeminate, almost childish twang I had been learning made me sound very much like a 20-something, pink miniskirted Japanese woman.

12 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Eldritch Press, which is dedicated to putting public domain books online, has a fantastic Checkhov project:

About this project: Constance Garnett translated and published 13 volumes of Chekhov stories in the years 1916-1922. Unfortunately, the order of the stories is almost random, and in the last volume Mrs. Garnett stated: “I regret that it is impossible to obtain the necessary information for a chronological list of all Tchehov’s works.” This site presents all 201 stories in the order of their publication in Russia.

About the notes: I have added notes to explain both the cultural practices of 19th century Russia and the occasional Britishisms that Mrs. Garnett used in her translations. Passages marked in blue have an explanatory note at the end of the story. I am particularly indebted to Edgar H. Lehrman’s A Handbook to 86 of Chekhov’s Stories and Ronald Hingley’s notes in the Oxford Chekhov (Volumes 4-9).

If you wanted to buy all 13-volumes, Ecco recently published the collection referenced above.

Eldritch Press has some other great books online as well, including Goncharov’s Oblomov and Lermontov’s A Hero for Our time.

Via metafilter.

9 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The University of Rochester’s own James Longenbach has a review of a new translation of Dante’s Paradiso in this Sunday’s New York Times book review:

When Dante wrote the poem we call “The Divine Comedy,” he called it simply the “Commedia”: a story, beginning in sorrow and ending in joy, of one man’s journey from hell, through purgatory, to paradise. It’s a good story. But while many of us are eager to harrow the halls of hell, with its gossipy tales of human suffering, few of us make it to heaven, where we are instructed in the theological intricacies of free will, gravity and the soul. No one said the journey was going to be easy.

But if the “Paradiso” is low on human interest (its inhabitants neither want nor regret anything), it contains some of the most exhilarating poetry even written. Recently, the poet Robert Pinsky offered us an English “Inferno”; W. S. Merwin translated the “Purgatorio.” Robert and Jean Hollander have made the whole journey: their “Paradiso” completes their verse translation of the entire “Commedia.”

Robert Hollander is one of the pre-eminent Dante scholars of our time. Each canto comes trailing notes of generous length elucidating the political, theological and cosmological aspects of Dante’s allegory. In addition, the translators refer to 73 commentaries compiled over the centuries and available at the Dartmouth Dante Project (dante.dartmouth.edu). But the “Commedia” is above all else a poem, and the Hollander translation obscures this fact — not because its scholarly apparatus is vast, but because the translation only fitfully succeeds as English poetry.

9 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Here’s video of an interview with a still-basking-in-the-post-Goncourt-glow Gilles Leroy. The interview is in French, which is why I have very little to say about it.

9 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

This is a really cool idea. Sonja and Ivan are putting together a guide to bookstores around the world:

Hello! We are Sonja and Ivan. And this is our Bookstore Guide. The idea of writing a guide to bookstores all around Europe was conceived while we were on a vacation in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Having a passion for reading and traveling, we have encountered various bookstores throughout Europe and thus have decided to make this blog and write about our findings. If you happen to find yourself in, let’s say Amsterdam or Berlin or any other city, we hope that this Bookstore Guide will help you find the books you are looking for so make sure you stop and browse for some of your favorite books in these bookstores.

Via rightreading.

8 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Like the title says. Here’s another way they don’t mention, but which also works: get a job in publishing, make a lot of publishing friends, and beg those friends for free books.

via RSB.

7 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

We’re a few days late on this, but Bookslut had an interview Monday with Jill Schoolman — founder of one of our favorite publishers, Archipelago — as a part of their indie heartthrob interview series.

7 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

It looks like Amazon.com is redesigning their site. The new design shows up when I go there now, but apparently it’s up for some people and not for others. It looks like they redesigned the homepage and the header design on the sub-pages, but everything below the top part looks the same (like a total mess) to me.

7 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Chile has returned 3,778 books that its military had taken from Peru’s national library – more than 126 years overdue.

Chilean soldiers pillaged the library in 1881 after capturing the Peruvian capital, Lima, during the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific.

5 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

IHT has a brief profile of Péter Nádas (or Nádas Péter). He’s out promoting his new collection of essays Fire and Knowledge, which was published recently by FSG:

Americans tend to be amnesiacs. Europeans, however, worry history, and no writer in Europe today has dealt more eloquently with the obligations and moral conundrums of memory, private and collective, than the Hungarian novelist and essayist Peter Nadas. Berlin, it happens, is where he came years ago to work on what turned into “A Book of Memories,” which, when the Hungarian censors finally consented in 1986 to let it be published, invited comparison to Proust and Thomas Mann, and caused Susan Sontag, after its translation into English 11 years later, to call it “the greatest novel written in our time, and one of the great books of the century.”

5 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The 2007 Prix Goncourt was announced today. It went to Gilles Leroy for Alabama Song. And the Prix Renaudot, which was also announced today, went to Daniel Pennac for his Chagrin d’ecole.

5 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Mirror has a list of untranslatable phrases from around the world. There are a lot of goodies, but my favorite has to be:

Bayram Degil (as in: Seyran degil eniste beni niye optu?) Turkish: there must be something behind this. Literally, “it’s not festival time, it’s not a pleasure trip, so why did my brother-in-law kiss me”?

1 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Guardian adds to the recent, and unexpected, surge of interest in Fernando Pessoa:

Although admired throughout Europe for his myriad alter egos – the 72 highly distinct personae he assumed over the course of his writing life – it is Fernando Pessoa’s mellifluous writing on emptiness that continues to haunt my imagination each time I read him.

John Gray has argued, in his introductory essay on Pessoa, that these “heteronyms”, as Pessoa called them, demonstrate that the indvidual subject – the heart of western philosophy – is an illusion, which Pessoa’s heteronymous authorship undercuts. But I would still argue that Pessoa penetrates, more importantly, into the dark side of the human psyche in his posthumously published collection of fragments: The Book of Disquiet – his disconnected ode to emptiness written by his semi-pseudonymous creation Bernando Soares.

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

Gonçalo Tavares has been awarded the Portugal Telecom prize for his novel Jerusalem. We found out about Tavares at Frankfurt and got our hands on a few of his ‘Neighborhood’ books—some of which have been translated into English by TransBooks in India (What kind of audience is there is in India for Portuguese translations…into English?). Each book in the series is a small collection of short stories inspired by literary and artistic figures. The ones we have in English are Mister Brecht, Mister Valéry, Mister Henri, and Mister Juarroz. It appears that the neighborhood—represented in an illustration on the back of the books by a sketch of a set of buildings with arrows telling you which building, and which window, each person lives in—is ever expanding, but so far includes, among others, Calvino, Kafka, Walser, and Woolf.

They’re incredible little books, and the stories remind me a lot of Augosto Monterroso’s. For the most part the stories are very short—some are only a few lines long—and fable-like, and some of the stories feature the writer/artist as main characters. Here’s the first story from Mister Brecht, entitled ‘A Pleasant Country’:

It was a very pleasant country in which to live, but the people were so lazy that when the President ordered them to defend the nation’s borders, they merely yawned. They were invaded.

The invaders also began to become lazy and, one day, when the new President ordered his men to defend the nation’s borders, they all yawned. They were invaded once again. This time by men from another country.

Yet again, in a short while the invaders became lazy and when, for the third time, a new President ordered them to defend the nation’s borders, they all yawned. They were invaded again. The country was now getting increasingly crowded.

This continued to happen until all the people of the world—even those who came from the other side of the planet—had invaded that country and had then been successively invaded as well. There were no people anywhere else in the world: they were all concentrated in that pleasant country.

It was at this stage that the new President ordered the invasion of the rest of the world since the world was completely empty—and was thus at his mercy. However, all his men yawned.

And then (without being aware of it) he advanced, alone.

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

Dispatches from Zembla is running a Germanic literature quiz — Alok provides the excerpt, and you try to figure out the book — if you want to find out, like me, how little you know about German language literature.

25 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Funnily enough, Chad is going to run a review of Malvinas Requiem this week, and here it is in The Guardian:

I’ve just finished reading a truly remarkable book: Malvinas Requiem by Rodolfo Fogwill. Despite first appearing in Argentina shortly before the end of the Falklands War in 1982, the translated edition was only published by Serpent’s Tail this year, to mark its – and the war’s – 25th anniversary. It’s the story of a group of young Argentine conscripts who desert during the war, a blackly comic tale that feels peculiarly British in tone.

23 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The Forward excerpts from a new book by Ruth Wisse called Jews and Power. In a discussion of the linguistic adaptability of Jews, she recounts the number of Jews who have won the Nobel Prize, and the number of languages in which they won the Prize.

Since the inauguration of the Nobel Prizes at the beginning of the twentieth century, Jews have received one-tenth of its awards for literature: in German, Paul Heyse (1910), Nellie Sachs (1966), and Elias Canetti (1981); in French, Henri Bergson (1927); in Russian, Boris Pasternak (1958) and Joseph Brodsky (1987); in English, Saul Bellow (1976), Nadine Gordimer (1991), and Harold Pinter (2005); in Hungarian, Imre Kertesz (2002); in Hebrew, Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1966); and in Yiddish, Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978). This exceptional roster of Jewish Nobel laureates in so many different tongues powerfully contradicts the essentialist connection between nationhood and national language that was postulated by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder, and it points to contrasting German and Jewish notions of identity.

- via Design Observer

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

Farouk Mustafa has won the Saif Ghobash Banipal translation prize for his English version of the Egyptian author Khairy Shalaby’s novel The Lodging House. The £2,000 award goes annually to the best English translation of an “imaginative and creative” work in Arabic.

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

The Bibliophilic Blogger points out an article in Le Monde that decodes Frankfurtspeak for the lay audience:

While we are on the subject of the idiocies of the book business there was a very funny article in last Friday’s Le Monde des Livres by Alain Beuve-Méry decoding the things people say at the Frankfurt Book Fair (and based apparently on an anonymous photocopy doing the rounds). The English used there is, he said, un idiome très particulier. For example to describe a book as “literary” means “people might like it but it will be harder to sell”. Worse than this is “experimental” which decoded means “unreadable, difficult to sell, and possibly capable of pleasing a few critics”.

We didn’t hear a lot of Frankfurtspeak, mostly because people are a bit disarmed when you tell them, in all honesty, that you aren’t particularly interested in sales. It’s a bit like that scene in Barry Lyndon where Barry reveals to the Chevalier de Balibari that he’s Irish, if you can imagine rights people as tubby, heavily makeup-ed confidence men with a soft spot for fellow exiles.

Here’s a link to the original French, for those of you who have it.

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

Spurious on Gabriel Josipovici’s Everything Passes:

1. Where is the room in which the protagonist of Josipovici’s novel finds himself? When is it? Minimal description (but then the whole narrative is written minimally): greyness and silence, broken only by the sound of his feet echoing on the bare boards. Then, sometimes, the cries of children in the playground below, and the hum of city traffic, far away. But for the most part, greyness and silence, and the protagonist, Felix, looking out of the window.

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

Powells reprints a review from the TLS of Andrey Kurkov’s latest novel to be translated into English — The President’s Last Love — which we mentioned briefly a few weeks ago:

However, such a determined sense of the outward emphasizes what is often missing from The President’s Last Love: love, emotional insight. If the surreal is allowed to slip by in understated fashion, so is the real suffering of Bunin, who is often a sadly isolated individual, and a Job like victim of periodic disaster. Having lost three children stillborn, he learns of the death of his remaining family with typical brusque briskness: “waiting at the door of my office that morning had been Colonel Svetlov with the news that my brother and his wife had jumped to their deaths. Details to follow from the embassy”. This is a novel where the details that follow always offer little comfort; when his twins die he receives “a large envelope from the clinic containing Polaroid photographs of our little ones, together with their birth and death certificates, plastic identity wristlets and small cellophane packets with locks of light brown hair”. Here as elsewhere, the writing is deliberately unyielding and affectingly unhuggable; all hard facts with little softening sentimentality.

It’s not an overly positive review, but it does sound like Kurkov, which is good enough for me.

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

This week’s New Yorker has a short story by Andrei Platonov, author of the fantastically bleak The Foundation Pit.

In the gloom of nature, a man with a hunting rifle was walking through sparse forest. The hunter’s face was a little pockmarked, but he was handsome and, for the time being, still young. At this time of year, a whiff of mist hung in the forest—from the warmth and moisture of the air, the breath of developing plants, and the decay of leaves that had perished long ago. It was difficult to see anything, but it was good to walk alone, to think without meaning, or to do the opposite—to stop thinking altogether and just droop. The forest grew on the slope of a low hill; large boulders lay between the small thin birches, and the soil was infertile and poor—clay here, gray earth there—but the trees and grass had got used to these conditions, and they lived in this land as best they could.

That’s the opening paragraph to the story, and it’s very representative of Platonov’s tone.

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

The LRB has a review of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate:

Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece Life and Fate is fascinating for many reasons, and one of them is the way in that it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up everything Grossman knew about the Great Patriotic War, and at the same time to rewrite War and Peace. Tolstoy’s novel was the only book Grossman read during the war, and he read it twice; War and Peace hangs over Grossman’s book as a template and a lodestar, and the measure of Grossman’s achievement is that a comparison between the two books is not grotesque.

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

Milan Kundera is going to receive the Czech National Prize for Literature, which is “bestowed on a Czech author either for an extraordinary literary achievement in the past year or for lifelong work”.

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

A majority of the staff are off to the Frankfurt Book Fair today, so don’t expect too much activity on Three Percent this week. We’ll try to do a little blogging from the Fair, but we don’t know how much time we’ll have to dedicate to covering the week’s events.

Cross your fingers that the train workers strike doesn’t leave us stranded in the outskirts of Frankfurt.

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

Eurozine has an article which surveys German novels that reflect the effects of the Allied bombing campaign in WWII., and attempts to address the questions Sebald posed in Air War and Literature:

No major postwar German novel dealt with the Allied bombing of German cities in World War II: during the Cold War, the echo of the bombs was muffled by the anticipated blast of “the bomb”. Nevertheless, argues Volker Hage, wartime experiences pervade the work of all authors who were in the cellars during the air raids. The issue became contemporary only when bombs again fell on European – Yugoslavian – cities: the Kosovan war and the debate about W.G. Sebald’s critique of the taboo on the bombing raids sharpened the focus. However, though more and more is being written on the subject, no German author of stature has revised the question of guilt.

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.)

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

As we mentioned earlier, Ecco and Knopf have competing editions of Tolstoy’s War and Peace out now. Newsweek covers the controversy, and even manages to mention a few things about the art of translating. Overall, they favor the Knopf edition:

Currently two publishers are feuding over rival editions of a book that was published—well, the publication date is one of the things they’re feuding about. Last month Ecco Press brought out a much shorter version of Tolstoy’s masterpiece about Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, translated by Andrew Bromfield. This edition constitutes Tolstoy’s first attempt at the novel, which he published in 1866 in a Russian literary magazine. Tolstoy would spend another three years revising and enlarging his initial vision, ultimately producing the much longer novel familiar to modern readers. That is the version being published this month by Knopf and newly translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the couple whose earlier translation of “Anna Karenina” became a best seller when Oprah Winfrey picked it as one of her book-club titles in 2004.

In the months leading up to publication, the two publishers took a few potshots at each other, with Knopf editor LuAnn Walther accusing Ecco of making “a serious mistake.” Walther even asked Pevear to draft a response to the Ecco version. Lately both houses have scaled back the rhetoric. Daniel Halpern, Ecco’s publisher, settled for saying in a recent interview that “anything that gets Tolstoy into the headlines has to be viewed as good news.” Walther refuses to comment further on the fracas. “It’s time to let the critics decide,” she says. But she does address what is perhaps a more pertinent question for the general reader: why does the world need yet another translation of “War and Peace,” and why now? “Because,” she says after a long pause, “it’s the greatest book ever written, and it’s never been done like this before. Because all the previous translations left things out and got things wrong. Because it is a great moment to be reading Tolstoy, because we’re at war. And because Richard and Larissa were willing to do it.”

8 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The New York Times Magazine has an interview with Mario Vargas Llosa about his new book, The Bad Girl.

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

A few lit-bloggers have gotten together to form The Blog of Disquiet:

The purpose of this site is to draw out everything that comes from reading Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. As the reading progresses, it will inform the content of this manifesto, which will – possibly – grow and change to reflect the effect of the book on its readers. While this may read as unnecessarily pretentious, in practice, as with the case of many blogs, the entries will reflect whatever reactions and thoughts the participants care to share, provided it centers on texts from The Book of Disquiet and does not digress too far from the source. Think of it as a blog from inside the text.

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

At Words Without Borders, Daniel Hahn and Clifford Landers discuss their two translations of Germano Almeida’s The Best Seller, which both appear on WWB as well:

Daniel Hahn: Let me start by asking you a question—or rather, two questions, one quite specific and one quite general. The first is effectively about the layout—it’s clear even before reading a word of your version, just from looking at it on the page, that you’ve made a decision different from mine, not to respect the original para breaks, to indent and isolate speech in a way the original doesn’t, but in a way more recognisable in English prose. So my specific question is: What was your reasoning behind that change?

They picked a good story. It’s about publishing and translation, and how there’s no money in either business.

3 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

We mentioned this a while ago, but Ecco and Knopf are at it again over their competing editions of War & Peace. Things appear to have taken a nasty turn. According to Ecco’s publisher, Dan Halpern:

“Knopf was evidently so concerned about our competing translation that they had their translators write a response to our edition, which was circulated to reviewers, long before either book came out. Unfortunately, in preparing that response, they failed to consider the American edition and marketing campaign, and actually attacked the British edition of the ‘Original Version’ (which appeared earlier than the American edition). Not surprisingly, Mr. Pevear does not address the Ecco translation in any substantive or meaningful way, but instead concerns himself with how the British publicized their edition. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mr. Pevear doesn’t actually read the original Russian.”

I wonder if this controversy is going to drive any sales?

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

The Czechs are still reading too.

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

Michael Henderson writes an appreciation of Milos Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy in The Telegraph:

There are many strands to the story, a lot of politics and many names, but don’t be put off by that. It isn’t necessary to be an expert in Middle European and Balkan affairs at the turn of the last century to savour the book. You simply have to recognise a powerful tale and trust the strong human impulses of the men and women who Bánffy brings thrillingly to life.

The most famous evocation of the doomed old order can be found, of course, within Proust’s vast novel—though À la recherche concerns itself with many other things. Whereas Proust explores what he called “the unknown, incalculable colourings of an unsuspected world”, the aesthetic experience of life and art filtered through the transforming prism of memory, Bánffy’s work is flesh and blood. It is about men of action (and inaction) and things felt deeply.

Those wacky British. Publishing articles about literature in translation, even though it’s been 7 or 8 years since the books were published, like they have a real interest in books. What a country!

It appears that the trilogy is only available through online retailers in the US, as nobody has bothered to publish the trilogy here.

Via Dispatches from Zembla.

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

This is absolutely fantastic. James Laughlin and Brendan Gill, of The New Yorker, recorded an interview together in 1996, shortly before their deaths in 1997. Via Papercuts.

2 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

It sounds like the Germans are still reading.

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

La deuxième sélection du Goncourt 2007 was made today:

  • Olivier Adam : “A l’abri de rien” (L’Olivier)
  • Philippe Claudel : “Le rapport de Brodeck” (Stock)
  • Marie Darrieussecq : “Tom est mort” (P.O.L.)
  • Clara Dupont-Monod : “La passion selon Juette” (Grasset)
  • Gilles Leroy : “Alabama Song” (Mercure de France)
  • Michèle Lesbre : “Le canapé rouge” (Sabine Wespieser)
  • Amélie Nothomb : “Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam” (Albin Michel)
  • Lydie Salvayre : “Portrait de l‘écrivain en animal domestique” (Seuil)
28 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Literary Saloon details what went wrong with the recent translation of Andrey Kurkov’s The President’s Last Love. I loved his Death and the Penguin and A Matter of Life and Death, so it’s too bad that something not-so-good seems to have happened to his latest book.

Sometimes the translator just gets it plain wrong – one character, posing for a sexy photo shoot, apparently “lies on the floor [and] flays her arms and legs” – and he, or she, also has a habit of switching tenses in mid-sentence (“Now I know what my wife wished for, it only remained to think about what I wanted”).

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

Words Without Borders has an interview with one of my favorite authors, Jose Eduardo Agualusa, and a translation of one of his short stories, A Practical Guide to Levitation.

In Brazil, your work is seen as critical of Angolan society. What’s the significance of this sociological approach in your work?

I’m a critic, in one form or another. In a country like Angola, which is very poor, not completely democratic yet, and without structures that allow for a global debate—I mean, with few independent newspapers, few people who can access the Internet—I believe that the writers have the moral and civic duty of criticism, of questioning, of giving a voice to those who don’t have a voice.

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

Horrible, no good, very bad news:

In a city — and a country — that has seen dozens of bookstores close in the face of online competition and dwindling customer traffic, the demise of Lectorum comes as a particular blow to the Hispanic literary community in New York. For nearly a half-century Lectorum has dispensed a wide range of translations of popular American titles by authors like John Grisham and Nora Roberts, as well as a vibrant collection of books by Spanish and Latin American novelists, poets and playwrights. It has also welcomed a steady stream of writers for readings at the store on 14th Street in Greenwich Village.

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

The MacArthur genius grants were announced today, and among the recipients is Peter Cole, of the new-to-us Ibis Editions:

IBIS EDITIONS is a small press and non-profit organization founded in Jerusalem in 1998 and dedicated to the publication of Levant-related books of poetry and belletristic prose. The press publishes translations from Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, French, and the other languages of the region. New writing is published, though special attention is paid to overlooked works from the recent and distant past. Ibis aims to make a modest contribution to the literature of this part of the world by drawing together a group of writers and translators whom both politics and market-forces would otherwise keep far apart, or out of print altogether. Ibis is motivated by the belief that literary work, especially when translated into a common language, can serve as an important vehicle for the promotion of understanding between individuals and peoples, and for the discovery of common ground.

Among their many fascinating books, the one that caught my eye first was the Michael Hulse (who also worked on Sebald) translated Land of the Hebrews by Else Lasker-Schüler.

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

The New York Times profiles the Brazilian authors Márcio Souza and Milton Hatoum and provides an oh-so-brief overview of the Brazilian scene:

Just ask Márcio Souza or Milton Hatoum, two leading Brazilian novelists of Amazon themes. Both were born and grew up in this bustling, ethnically diverse port city in the heart of the planet’s largest rain forest, but both had to leave here and struggle to get recognition.

“We don’t fit any of the established models or niches,” Mr. Souza, 61, said in an interview at his studio here. “We’re not magical realists” like Gabriel García Márquez and other celebrated Latin American writers, he said, “and we haven’t lived through the interesting times that the East Europeans have.”

“Maybe we need more deforestation here to get some attention,” Mr. Souza, the author of picaresque, satirical novels like “The Emperor of the Amazon” and “Mad Maria,” added mordantly. “That’s how the book world seems to work.”

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

As Danny points out, it’s a bit strange that this is written in English. It’s an older article, from 2005, but it’s a familiar sounding complaint, despite the fact that it’s a French translator talking about Scandinavian books.

After over a quarter of a century in the trade, I have been asked to write about the situation of the translation of Swedish literature in France at the present moment. It is a matter dear to my heart – perhaps all too dear and I have some difficulty looking at it with an objective mind. But försöka duger, as they say up there: It is worth trying.

The situation as seen over the past half-century is rather simple, in fact. In the fifties, there was only one company which published any Nordic literature in French at all: Stock. I know it very well, since I was delighted, when I began studying Scandinavian languages in my late teens, at the existence of its Bibliothèque scandinave (part of the “Cabinet cosmopolite”). I swallowed every volume I could find (all too few, for my taste). I know very well too, to whom I owe what would later become my life-time passion: his name is Lucien Maury, a former French lecturer in Scandinavia who was virtually the only one in the country to know what was going on over there in the field of literature. The series ultimately included over fifty volumes, all of the best quality (Andersen, Kielland, Kinck, Kirkegaard, Kivi, Lagerlöf, Lagerkvist, Pontoppidan, Strindberg, Undset…). Unfortunately, it was very much one man’s work and did not survive his death in 1953. The series was discontinued for years – in fact it has not yet been reborn. Nordic literature was at that time poorly represented in such foreign series as Gallimard’s Du monde entier or Robert Laffont’s Pavillons and at Presses de la Renaissance. Nowadays, the tables are turned: there is one publishing house which does not publish any Swedish or Nordic work at all and it is, believe it or not, Stock! Whereas nearly all the others, big and small, have at least one or two Scandinavian authors or titles in their catalogues. Rejoicing? Yes and no, depending whether you think in terms of quantity or quality.

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

It seems like the e-book discussion is becoming something of a cause celebre here. Apologies if you find it boring, but here’s another take from Jon Evans at The Walrus. There isn’t much new here (except for the fantastic word ‘onpaper’, which I love), but it’s worth a read anyway.

A few years ago, my first novel was published. It did pretty well, won an award, was translated and sold around the world; the movie rights were even optioned. Now I want to put it online — no charge, no hook, no catch. My motivation is simple: greed.

My publishers are resolutely opposed to this idea. They fear it will “devalue the brand” and set a dangerous precedent. They fear, intuitively but wrongly, that fewer people will buy a book that is also given away for free. But most of all, they fear the future — and with good reason. Book publishing is a dinosaur industry, and there’s a big scary meteor on the way.

Newspapers, with their readerships and profit margins being hammered by television, free dailies, and the Internet (Yahoo! News and Craigslist, among others), have been forced to adapt or die. Even the august New York Times now has more readers online than “onpaper” (for the moment a neologism). The broadsheet’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., has speculated that in five years’ time it might stop producing a print edition. Magazines are way ahead of him. Many scientific journals don’t bother printing physical copies. Premiere, once one of Hollywood’s mightiest arbiters, recently announced that it will henceforth exist only online. Slate, an online mag covering politics and current events, is turning a profit, and long-established titles like the Atlantic and the New Yorker give selected content away for free, using the web to drive subscriptions. If you thought the Internet revolution ended with the dot-com flame-out in 2001, think again. We are witnessing the beginnings of a massive tectonic shift.

Via The Reading Experience.

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

Mario Vargas Llosa has been given another honorary degree, this time from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardennes.

L‘écrivain hispano-péruvien Mario Vargas Llosa a été nommé mercredi docteur honoris causa de l’Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, qui accueille depuis lundi et jusqu‘à jeudi un colloque international sur l’auteur né à Lima, a constaté un photographe de l’AFP.

Roughly translated: Vargas Llosa is getting an honorary degree following an international colloquim (which ends tomorrow) on his work.

For the curious, here is the schedule for the colloquim.

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?

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

The LA Times has a review, which we overlooked these many weeks, of Gyula Krúdy’s Sunflowers, out now from the consistently incredible New York Review Books. It sounds fantastic.

Here, for example, is one of his translators, the usually sober-minded poet George Szirtes, describing Krúdy’s Sindbad stories (no relation to the Arab sailor): “The language comes to pieces . . . leaving a curiously sweet erotic vacuum, like an ache without a centre.” Besides whetting your appetite for some sweet erotic vacuuming, does that make Krúdy’s literary power clear to you? No? Well, perhaps this old jacket copy will help: “Krúdy’s verbal / shamanistic trance-and-dance translates historical reverie into a vision that transcends national and ethnic borderlines.” Not quite clear yet? Historian John Lukacs, probably Krúdy’s greatest promoter in English, finally nails it: Krúdy “is translatable only with the greatest of difficulty — in essence hardly translatable at all.”

Via Dispatches from Zembla, who shares our soft spot for the Hungarians.

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

According to the New York Times:

Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century. In fact, they are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.

One every two weeks! That’s incredible.

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

I’m working on Dubravka Ugresic’s new book of essays, Nobody’s Home, which won’t be out until a year from now (I know, it’s a long time), and I wanted to share this tiny little excerpt since I just ran across it:

Things would be simpler if the people who did all this were willing to agree that they had been killing for the sake of killing, destroying for the sake of destroying, torching for the sake of torching. That, of course, will not happen. History and culture are the most reliable ‘banks’ for laundering a dirty conscience. History and culture are part and parcel of what is known as the national cultural identity, though the national and the identity are only figments of the collective imagination. The collective, however, is to be believed. An individual killer would never be able to say: “I killed defending William Shakespeare because he is part of my cultural heritage.” A collective, on the other hand, can. This is seen, indeed, as its right.

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

PW has some coverage of another panel at the Editor’s Exchange, ‘From Contact to Contract: Acquiring Foreign Titles’:

The title of the panel may have drawn internationally minded publishing people hoping to learn more about securing the rights to foreign works—but thanks to some heated bickering led largely by Hachette foreign rights director Anne-Solange Noble, the discussion mainly focused on the frustrations and misunderstandings involved in contracts relating to publishing translated works.

Sounds like a pretty heated panel, considering they were talking about contracts.

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

The Literary Saloon has some coverage of a panel that Chad was on, called ‘Promoting Literature in Translation Online’:

While familiar with the sites, it was interesting to hear what they were doing and what they had planned, especially as several of the sites are in the process of being overhauled (or, in the case of Words without Borders, recently were). There is a good deal — and variety — of information available among them, even as they have different, sometimes overlapping objectives. Speaking for Dalkey, Martin Riker noted the difficulty of serving both a public non-profit objective (i.e. largely informational) as well as being on some level a commercial publisher (i.e. selling books) — albeit with non-profit status — an issue Open Letters will eventually also face. The French organizations are there to try to promote specifically French titles, while In Translation, Ww/oB, and, to some extent, PEN are trying to promote foreign literature and translators.

They also take issue with the idea of RSS feeds, saying, ‘I always think the emphasis should be on actual content’. We agree, which is why people who subscribe to our RSS feed get access to all of our content through their readers.

And he called us Open Letters, but what’s an extra ‘s’ between friends?

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

InTranslation has a sample translation of Anne Garréta’s La Décomposition online:

Anne Garréta’s La Décomposition, written over a four-year period and published in 1999, is the story of a serial killer. However, given that the author is a member of Oulipo, and the killer well versed in literature, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that victims are chosen from among the characters in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Their flesh-and-blood counterparts are hunted in a contemporary Paris of video arcades, bars, and shadowy corners by the Seine. As the murderer dispatches the victims, their fictional counterparts are eliminated from a digitized version of Proust’s magnum opus. Every reference to the “murdered” character is expunged from the book, reducing the novel’s length with each fresh kill. To complicate matters, the philosophical and ruminative killer, who is, disturbingly, also the book’s narrator, chooses these victims on the basis of a grammatical rule: they must agree in gender and number with the character in the novel. Otherwise, they are chosen randomly.

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

Litkicks is holding a pretty interesting conversation about pricing and literary books.

LitKicks is asking a variety of book industry professionals (including publishers, authors, agents, editors, distributors, sales representatives, booksellers, librarians, critics and bloggers) a question: “Does literary fiction suffer from dysfunctional pricing?”

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

I must be a little slow on the pickup, but I just found out that The New Yorker has a podcast where authors read someone else’s work and have a brief conversation with the fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. In this one George Saunders reads Isaac Babel’s short story “You Must Know Everything”.

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

This Space has a translation of Jean-Luc Nancy’s tribute to Maurice Blanchot on the 100th anniversary of his birth:

The Infinite Conversation: This title – one of the most striking of all his works – we could take as an emblem of Maurice Blanchot’s thinking. Not so much thinking, really, as a stance or gesture: a confidence. Above all, Blanchot has confidence in the possibility of the conversation. What is undertaken in the conversation (with another, with oneself, with the very pursuit of conversation) is the ever-renewed relationship of speech to the infinity of meaning that shapes its truth.

Writing (literature) names this relationship. It does not transcribe a testimony, it does not invent a fiction, it does not deliver a message: it traces the infinite journey of meaning as it absents itself. This absenting is not negative; it shapes the chance and challenge of meaning itself. “To write” means continuously to approach the limit of speech, the limit that speech alone designates, whose designation makes us (speakers) unlimited.

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

The première sélection of the Prix Femina was announced today. It’s a long list because they give out two prizes for this one—one for French novels and one for le roman étrangers—so I won’t re-print it here, but one of my favorite authors, who I think is pretty big in France, made the foreign list, Arto Paasilinna. I can’t recommend his The Year of the Hare enough.

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

Google has just announced some new features for their book search:

To start, you can create your own personal collection on Book Search, and use it to help find just the right book from your collection for any occasion.

and

We’ve been working on ways to help you dive in and explore interesting ideas and connections in books. Today we’re pleased to announce Popular Passages, a way to follow the literary memes that appear again and again in the world of books.

With the full text of millions of books digitized, we started thinking about how people quote and build on each other’s ideas. Like Bartlett putting together the Familiar, the Google Book Search team has been uncovering a vox populi of passages that authors have deemed worth repeating. Take, for example, Eleanor Roosevelt’s book, You Learn by Living, in which she describes how her experiences helped shape her personal philosophy. On the “About this Book” page, you’ll see it has 10 Popular Passages. One of them, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience,” appears in over a hundred books in the index. Wow.

(via The Millions)

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

Day In Day Out was Terézia Mora’s debut novel, and it won the prestigious Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2004, the year of its release in Germany.

At the beginning of the novel, Abel Nema lives with his mother in an unnamed Balkan country. His father has abandoned them, and after a fruitless search, his mother resigns herself to the fact of his disappearance. Time passes, and as a teen Abel confesses his homosexual attraction to his best friend Ilia. He is spurned and shortly thereafter Ilia disappears in turn, which drives Abel to travel the countryside, where he resumes his mother’s search for his father.

Abel manages to find one of his father’s former paramours and is invited to stay the night, where he nearly dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. Hospitalized, he wakes up a changed man, with an incredible facility for learning languages and an attendant disability for just about everything else, including any semblance of a sense of direction or a desire to talk. When war break out in the Balkans, Abel flees and manages, utilizing his linguistic abilities, to create an academic life in Central Europe, where his bizarre, child-like manner drives everyone he meets to either fall in love with him, unaccountably, or hate him for no reason.

Habitually wandering the streets, and with little volition of his own, except for studying or drinking at an all-night sex club, where he never manages to get drunk, Abel falls in with the underbelly of refugee society, living for a time with a half-sane collector of the broken down and abandoned, Konstantin, and later living in a debauched and carnivalesque atmosphere with an even less sane woman, Kinga, and the band of musicians for whom she alternately serves as muse, lover and mother. Eventually, Abel finds some version of normalcy in the person of Mercedes, whom Abel marries to acquire legal status, and her pre-pubescent son Omar, whom he tutors in Russian, until some of Abel’s less savory secrets come to life and everything is thrown into disarray.

Terezia Mora chooses to tell the story of Abel from the perspective of everyone who comes into contact with him. That perspective changes from moment to moment throughout the story—sometimes shifting from a third person narration to a first person narration in the middle of a sentence—and doesn’t give the reader much aid in coming to understand her main character, who ends up as a cipher. He wanders from place to place aimlessly, and, because he has no apparent will of his own, much of the story moves forward through coincidence, he lives with this person, he lives with that person, he runs into trouble while he’s lost in this and such a place, or he simply disappears from certain situations with no explanation.

Perhaps Mora intended for Able Nema to serve as a stand-in for the rootlessness and desperation of existence as a Balkan refugees, or the refugee life in general, but the character she has placed at the center of the story is unable to bear that symbolic weight. His psychic absence leaves a large hole in the center of the narrative where our concern for him as a character, as a being inhabiting this created world, should be.

It isn’t until the final pages of the novel that we are allowed to peek behind Abel Nema’s curtain, and then it happens in a borderline hackneyed section where he takes psychedelic drugs and travels through a psychologically revealing dreamscape.

All in all: I have nothing to complain about. Not that I understand what it means, but most of the time I was: happy. Apart from the ruptures—I don’t know, can one say: in time?—when it suddenly became intolerable, neither life nor death but a third thing man was not made for, when a flood of repulsion, of fear overcomes you and carries you off not to pain, no, not even that, but into nothingness, nothingness, nothingness, until at a certain point, like water, it slows down and passes into an idyllic splish-splash, and I, the flotsam and jetsam, remain behind on the shore.

Brief pause to allow me to utter the following words—which in their entirety, not one by one, are for various personal reasons holy to me—with the requisite space: Sometimes, I say, I am filled to the brim with love and devotion, so much so that I practically cease to be myself. My longing to see and understand them is so great that I wish to be the air between them so they can inhale me and I sink into their every cell. Then there are timers I am so overcome with repulsion when I see them before me, their cadaver mouths eating and drinking and talking, and everything in them turns to muck and lies and I feel that if I have to see and hear them one second more I’ll give the next face I see such a drubbing that there won’t be anything left when I am through with it.

By this point in the story it’s too late. We’ve already spent more than 300 pages with a character we know very little about and for whom we have been given little reason to empathize. Day In Day Out is an ambitious novel—Michael Henry Heim’s translation is incredible, as usual—and Terezia Mora has thrown a lot of writing at it, but it falls flat in too many cases to realize its goals.

Day In Day Out
By Terézia Mora
translated by Michael Henry Heim
Ecco
$14.95, 432 pgs.

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

The shortlist for the German Book Prize has just been announced. The winner (who gets €25,000) will be announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

I’m not familiar with any of these writers, but the exciting thing is that we’ll get a chance to read some English samples on signandsight.com soon. Here’s the list:

  • Die Mittagsfrau / Lady Midday by Julia Franck
  • Das bin doch ich / Isn’t that me? by Thomas Glavinic
  • Abendland / Occident by Michael Köhlmeier
  • Böse Schafe / Angry Sheep by Katja Lange-Müller
  • Der Mond und das Mädchen / The Moon and the Maiden by Martin Mosebach
  • Wallner beginnt zu fliegen / Wallner begins to fly by Thomas von Steinaecker

If you’re curious, here’s the longlist. Click here for more information about the prize.

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

I stumbled across this site a few years ago and had forgotten about it, but was reminded of it again today by Coudal Partners. It’s a web-based annotation to Bulgakov’s chef-d’oeuvre:

These Master & Margarita pages are intended as a web-based multimedia annotation to Bulgakov’s novel.

You won’t find the full text of the novel here, as it is still under copyright and no one in his right mind would want to read a 300-page novel online in any language. Curling up with the novel, preferably in a basement apartment in front of a fire on a moonlit night, is highly recommended.

You won’t find a summary of the novel here either, and it’s unlikely the site will make much sense as a whole if you don’t read the novel. You can’t use this site like Cliff’s Notes.

It’s an awesome resource if you’re interested in understanding the novel on a different level. It even has a little analysis of the available translations, which is pretty cool:

Mirra Ginsburg (Grove Press, 1967) Ginsburg’s translation is lively and entertaining, but it was unfortunately made from the 1967 Soviet text without the advantage of the censored sections. As a result, it mirrors the censored version, including deletion of passages about the actions of the secret police and most of Nikanor Ivanovich’s dream (Ch. 15).

Michael Glenny (Harper & Row, 1967) Glenny’s translation restores the passages that were missing from Ginsburg’s. Both translations were done so quickly after publication of the Russian original that they lack much critical depth. Both, for example, miss the crucial inclusion of the Devil in Berlioz’s thought: “It’s time to throw everything to the Devil and go to Kislovodsk.” Ginsburg has “drop everything” and Glenny “chuck everything up.”

Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O’Connor (Ardis, 1995) Burgin and O’Connor’s translation is by far the best, if one is interested in studying what Bulgakov really wrote. They have the advantage of some 30 years of Bulgakov scholarship, which they take into consideration in their translation, which gets details right. The notes, provided by the Bulgakov scholar Ellendea Proffer, are also invaluable.

Richard Pevear (Penguin, 1997) There appears to be a new translation by Richard Pevear, but I have not yet seen it.

11 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [3]

Adam Roberts at The Guardian calls for a re-translation of Verne’s oeuvre.

Some of this I knew already. I’d heard that the original translators into English felt at liberty to cut out portions of Verne’s original text, particularly where they felt he was getting too “technical” or “scientific”; and I’d heard that one of those early translators – the Reverend Lewis Page Mercier – had bowdlerised any sentiments hostile towards or injurious to the dignity of Great Britain (such as might be uttered by Captain Nemo, an Indian nobleman who had dedicated himself to an anti-imperialist cause). I knew too that the original English translators tended to mangle the metric system measurements of Verne’s careful measurements and descriptions, either simply cutting the figures out, or changing the unit from metric to imperial but, oddly, keeping the numbers the same.

I’m not up on Mr. Verne, but if this is the situation, someone needs to rectify it.

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

Mssv points out a leaked image of the next Sony E-reader:

It’ll still cost $300.

11 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

The longlist for this year’s Prix Goncourt was announced today. Here’s the list:

  • Olivier Adam : “A l’abri de rien” (L’Olivier)
  • Pierre Assouline : “Le portrait” (Gallimard)
  • Philippe Claudel : “Le rapport de Brodeck” (Stock)
  • Marie Darrieussecq : “Tom est mort” (P.O.L.)
  • Vincent Delecroix : “La chaussure sur le toit” (Gallimard)
  • Delphine De Vigan : “No et moi” (J.C. Lattès)
  • Michèle Lesbre : “Le canapé rouge” (Sabine Wespieser)
  • Clara Dupont-Monod : “La passion selon Juette” (Grasset)
  • Yannick Haenel : “Cercle” (Gallimard)
  • Gilles Leroy : “Alabama Song” (Mercure de France)
  • Amélie Nothomb : “Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam” (Albin Michel)
  • Olivier et Patrick Poivre d’Arvor : “J’ai tant rêvé de toi” (Albin Michel)
  • Grégoire Polet : “Leurs vies éclatantes” (Gallimard)
  • Lydie Salvayre : “Portrait de l‘écrivain en animal domestique” (Seuil)
  • Olivia Rosenthal : “On n’est pas là pour disparaître” (Verticales)
10 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The New York Times had a really fantastic article about Knopf’s archives at the University of Texas. It details some of the authors and books they’ve rejected:

For almost a century, Knopf has been the gold standard in the book trade, publishing the works of 17 Nobel Prize-winning authors as well as 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes of fiction, nonfiction, biography and history. Recently, however, scholars trolling through the Knopf archive have been struck by the number of reader’s reports that badly missed the mark, especially where new talent was concerned. The rejection files, which run from the 1940s through the 1970s, include dismissive verdicts on the likes of Jorge Luis Borges (“utterly untranslatable”), Isaac Bashevis Singer (“It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”), Anaïs Nin (“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic”), Sylvia Plath (“There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”) and Jack Kerouac (“His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”). In a two-year stretch beginning in 1955, Knopf turned down manuscripts by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, and the historians A. J. P. Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, not to mention Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (too racy) and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” (“hopelessly bad”).

This rejection note is definitely the highlight though, and writing something like this is the dream of everyone who has ever had to wade through the slush pile:

“This time there’s no point in trying to be kind,” it said. “Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.”

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

The New York Times has a brief survey of the upcoming electronic book initiatives from Amazon and Google:

In October, the online retailer Amazon.com will unveil the Kindle, an electronic book reader that has been the subject of industry speculation for a year, according to several people who have tried the device and are familiar with Amazon’s plans. The Kindle will be priced at $400 to $500 and will wirelessly connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site.

I have no faith in Amazon’s ability to create a device that will convince people to spend ‘$400 to $500’, nor in their ability to craft a device, or user interface, that would be useful to anyone. And they’re locking down their e-books in a proprietary format. Blech.

Google is just putting books online and charging a small fee, which is not exactly breakthrough stuff.

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

Immediately following an exciting tidbit about Whoopi Goldberg and The View, IHT mentions Mario Vargas Llosa:

Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most acclaimed writers, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of La Rioja in northern Spain. Vargas Llosa, 71, has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including “Conversation in the Cathedral,” “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” and “The Green House.”

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

The Fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation is online now, and features reviews of Gabriel Josipovici’s Goldberg: Variations, Dumitru Tsepeneag’s The Vain Art of the Fugue, and Tadeusz Rozewicz’s new poems.

Definitely go and check it out.

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

Over at Ready, Steady, Book, there’s an interesting look at Gabriel Josiopivici’s The Inventory (1968) and what it attempts to accomplish.

But for Josipovici, incompleteness is itself precisely one of the things that the realist novel shuns by assuming that it already is the perfect vehicle for anything one might wish to express. The Modernists and their precursors such as Sterne and Rabelais saw that the regular and incurious form of the realist novel reinforced a view of life that, for starters, denied the pivotal roles of doubt, ambiguity and failure in human affairs. In Proust, Kafka and Eliot, Josipovici found writers who not only realized that art is often unable to articulate our experience, but who had also grasped that this understanding had to be worked into the very heart of the writer’s approach.

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

The Progressive Historian on Karel Capek (via CESLIT):

Karel Capek was born in what is now the Czech Republic, but what belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire when he was born in 1890. In a period of less than a decade, the Czech lands saw the birth of three titans of early 20th century literature: the raucous Slavic Cervantes Karel Hasek, the moody Jewish-German genius Franz Kafka, and the relentless innovator Karel Capek.

By the time the Czech lands achieved their independence, the Czech language and identity were still struggling to define themselves after having been nearly obliterated during centuries of foreign rule and forced use of German. Some groundwork had been laid in the 19th century by good (but not great) poets like Erben, Nemcová and Neruda, but Capek’s virtuoso skill with the language and his expansion of that skill into such disparate genres as newspaper editorial, science fiction fantasy, and technical handbooks made possible later Czech writers like Kundera, Skvorecký, Hrabal, Klíma, and Havel.

30 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Andrew Hon of Mssv tested out Sony’s e-book reader, and pointed to an article in The Bookseller about the future of digital books.

Hon didn’t fancy the Sony reader so much, (“It’s a bit of a mess…and at $350, it’s not worth it”) except that if you ditch the Sony software and load up some open source goodness you can: “download the entire contents of the BBC News website, Newsweek and the New York Times, format them with a table of contents and links, and then add them as books to your Reader”. That sounds awesome.

I was more interested in the e-book angle though, as I’m a complete gadget-freak and computer nerd, and also because it’s something that we’ll have to face up to soon as a publisher. The Bookseller article is pretty boilerplate. Find techy who says, “Get with it! It’s coming! Now!”:

Hon believes that some publishers are chronically behind in preparing for a digital market, and that a surge in demand for e-books (especially once reading devices proliferate) will see piracy decimate publishers’ margins if they are unable to offer e-books at a reasonable price with ease of access.“It’s surprising how fast things can change. Once five million e-readers are out there on the market . . . And if you look at people growing up now, they will say, ‘why would I want a book when I can have an e-book?’ They’re not going to be bothered about pirating books.” He thinks that, like some music labels, some book publishers will go bust in the new economy.

And mix with publisher who is hedging their bets, and claiming there is something special about the book-as-object (without noticing that certain people thought, and still think, the same thing about vinyl records):

Most publishers, however, don’t see themselves in this way. Michael Bhaskar, who recently joined Pan Macmillan as head of digital publishing, disagrees that a tipping point will come. “It won’t be the death of the publisher, just a slight change. It’s foolish to underestimate how brilliant a piece of technology a book is. Within five years digital content will not be more than 5% of revenue for trade publishers,” he predicts. “After that, there will be a new generation of e-readers and mobile reading. But it won’t be a big bang like iPods or a sea change like newspapers. A book has a sanctity in the way an e-book doesn’t.”

I don’t think it’s that difficult to see how this thing will play out. It’ll follow what happened to the music business model very closely, I’d guess, although I do think it’s still a few years off. The technology has to reach the point where innovation can come from the bottom-up (it’s already beginning to happen). Let’s be real, Sony and HarperCollins will not be the ones to lead this revolution.

Someone, somewhere, will figure out a way to get the content from printed page to digital content quickly and easily (Think CDs to MP3s). Scanners will get cheaper and better, and that will have unintended consequences (Think CDRs and CD burners for your computer). Someone else will figure out a way to share the stuff (Think Napster), or sharing will piggy-back on the existing sharing systems. First the nerds, then the semi-nerds (like me) will catch on and start reading these books on their computers, not minding that it’s a little less convenient than reading a physical book. Some forward-thinking entrepreneur (Think Steve Jobs) will suddenly see an opportunity and make an e-reader that doesn’t suck and that will become a must-have thing.

By then it’ll be too late and the big publishers will put together a bunch of half-ass attempts (Think the new fee-based Napster) to put the genie back in the bottle, while holding on like grim death to their not so suddenly outdated business model, and will rot from within.

All of this seems inevitable to me.

Encoding a song to 1s and 0s was a trivial technical leap, and MP3s becoming a de-facto standard wasn’t really a necessary step in liberating the content from its nominal producers. There are a raft of different codecs that could just as easily become the ‘standard’. There’s nothing exceptional about the iPod either; it just took existing technologies and put them together in a thoughtful way.

Publishers talking about needing a standard before making any moves, or waiting around for the magic-bullet Sony e-reader, is just talk that they use to justify doing, essentially, nothing.

A standard will emerge.

An e-reader that replaces the book will emerge.

So what are publishers to do, then? For now, we should give it away online. Preferably marked up as XML for portability. I think it’s a big opportunity for smaller, independent publishers—who don’t have to empty the corporate ocean with teaspoons—to play a big role in influencing the future of the book.

The number of people who will take advantage of those files will be small, at the moment. But by giving it away now, in an open format, publishers can get ahead of the curve and foster technical innovation at the grassroots on their terms, instead of being blindsided by a technology that emerges on its own, and which answers to no one. This isn’t something the majority of publishers would be willing to do, however, as no one has figured out a way to ‘monetize’ the process yet.

What I’d be more worried about, however, is being stuck, ten years from now, selling a product that nobody needs anymore, like music companies and their cute plastic CDs. Sure, you can milk cash out of books for a few more years, but once people abandon them—and they will—where will publishers be? Running around trying to sue everyone and his sister while the world passes them by?

30 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

I’m a little biased on this one for ‘I-acquired-the-book-for-Harper-Perennial’ related reasons, but you have to read Goldberg: Variations.

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.

29 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The New Yorker tells us about our newest opportunity to get on to the Dante bandwagon:

If you haven’t yet read the Divine Comedy—you know who you are—now is the time, because Robert and Jean Hollander have just completed a beautiful translation of the astonishing fourteenth-century poem. The Hollanders’ Inferno was published in 2000, their Purgatorio in 2003. Now their Paradiso (Doubleday; $40) is out. It is more idiomatic than any other English version I know. At the same time, it is lofty, the more so for being plain. Jean Hollander, a poet, was in charge of the verse; Robert Hollander, her husband, oversaw its accuracy. The notes are by Robert, who is a Dante scholar and a professor emeritus at Princeton, where he taught the Divine Comedy for forty-two years.

28 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

V.S. Naipaul recalls reading Derek Walcott’s poems for the first time in The Guardian

But in the strangest way something like that had happened. The young poet became famous among us. He came from the island of St Lucia. If Trinidad was a dot on the map of the world, it could be said that St Lucia was a dot on that dot. And he had had his book published in Barbados. For island people the sea was a great divider: it led to different landscapes, different kinds of houses, people always slightly racially different, with strange accents. But the young poet and his book had overcome all of that: it was as though, as in a Victorian homily, virtue and dedication had made its way against the odds.

The poet was Derek Walcott. As a poet in the islands, for 15 or 16 or 20 years, until he made a reputation abroad, he had a hard row to hoe; for some time he even had to work for the Trinidad Sunday Guardian. Forty-three years after his first book of poems came out, self-published, he won the Nobel prize for literature.

23 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Somewhat surprisingly, Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser is one of NPR’s ‘You Must Read This’ summer picks. Claire Messud (“She has commented, about her current life, ‘Who knew there could be so much poop?’”) picked it.

Then I picked up The Loser, and was not only mesmerized, and horrified, but felt, also, profoundly spoken to: here was a book — a ranting monologue, more naturally than a novel — obsessing unflinchingly about the things that have always obsessed me. About art, and ambition, and failure, and delusion, and death.

22 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The new Hesperus Press magazine is online, and features their American titles.

22 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

To continue our wall-to-wall Bolaño coverage:

Vertigo, the blog that collects all things Sebald, points us to two new books about Sebald. We already talked about the first one, but the second one may be even more interesting. It’s called The Archimedean Author: Roberto Bolaño, W.G. Sebald, and Narrative After Borges and seeks to find points of comparison between the two authors.

There’s a sample of Jessie Ferguson’s book online (or it appears to be a sample anyway).

Sebald’s break with “straightforward conceptions of the novel” may be the more extreme case of the two: he writes in a superficially documentary style and includes photographs and other visual reproductions (e.g. of passports, journal entries, etc.) to both underscore and call into question the facticity of his subject matter. All of his novels deal to some extent with the destruction of the physical landscape by human and natural acts, and with the reflection and refraction of this pattern of destruction in the suffering and troubled memories of the human inhabitants of those landscapes (most of them in England, Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe); thus a variety of complex relationships arise between the fragmented, documentaristic narrative and the themes of severed and fugitive memories and experiences.

Bolaño, on the other hand, is a writer consciously embedded in a “Latin American” literary tradition; his work frequently confronts the traumas of Latin American political experience during the second half of the twentieth century, in particular the fall of the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile and episodes of violence in Mexico (the series of unsolved murders in Ciudad Juárez, on the border with Texas, in the 1990s, or the police invasion of the Universidad Nacional in 1968 culminating in the Tlatelolco massacre). He is less concerned than Sebald with landscapes and physical documentation of history, but equally, if not more, concerned with literary texts and with the relationship between literary production and political responsibility, two preoccupations linked throughout the history of the postwar Latin American novel.

Thankfully we have access to a University library, or I’d probably be spending my lunch money on this one.

21 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Michael Roloff responded to our post about the review of Peter Handke’s CROSSING THE SIERRA DE GREDOS in the comments, but I think it deserves to be posted to the front page:

It is time readers of the New York Times Book Review were made aware of Handke, the prose writer, having gone through something like half a dozen changes. Starting of as a supremely playful demonstrator of the quelling of anxiety in his first three novels, only the third, GOALIE [1969], exists in English [in my translation], his nausea, once including words [he now fondle them] is not like Sartre’s idea-driven kind, but has psychosomatic origins; is the nausea produced by what for him is “the ugly;” no matter that it hits the same nerve. And that his hyper-sensitivities are uniquely his

If Mr. Gordon were as exacting as he says Handke is, he might have noticed that Handke already shifted to a more open hearted mytho-poeic, but equally if not more exacting, position in the 1975 LEFT HANDED WOMAN, [whose personae resembles that of the woman subject of the current DEL GREDOS] the book just preceding A SLOW HOMECOMING, whose Alaska section must be one of the most articulated responses to nature in world literature for its selectivity in naming.

What entered Handke’s writing shortly after HOMECOMING, in THE LESSON OF ST. Victoire, was the pictorial Cezanne re-arrangement of reality {“Close your eyes and see the world arise anew”, the opening sentence of his 1984 Salzburg novel ACROSS, provides a hint.}

With THE REPETITION [1987, “retrieval”] a book fabulously praised in The Guardian, the promised re-write of both his first novel, DIE HORNISSEN [1966], and of SORROW BEYOND DREAMS [1972 – Gordon even manages to find a negative take on Handke’s emotionally most immediately accessible highly praised book], Handke’s search [“I want to be someone like somebody else was once” KASPAR, 1968; OBIE 1972] rearranged his roots in his Slovenian grandfather and uncles’ region; which provides a hint to the unnecessarily baffled Professor Gordon why Handke might prefer a continuous existence of the Yugoslav Federation over its decimation into small consumer entities; his defense of the Serbs and Milosevic against the more customary “one devil” theory of history and journalism.

With the three narratives in THREE ESSAYS [especially ON THE JUKE-BOX, 1989], culminating in the six-sided weaving self-portrait of himself – as the once nauseated ex-cultural attaché Keuschnig [of 1974 A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING], as writer, painter-filmmaker, priest, stone mason, super-finicky misanthropic restaurateur, and reader, in the 1994 magnum opus ONE YEAR IN THE NO-MAN’S BAY, Handke demonstrated for stretches – he is the greatest of exhibitionists – the capabilities of narrative as pure writing music image, as he did already in the 1986 ABSENCE, a narrative that a reader experiences like film.

Subsequent to NO-MAN’S-BAY he then demonstrated that you could zoom like a camera, in the 1996 ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, into the mind of an apothecary, in the improbably named, Salzburg suburb Taxham, and make that fellow’s dream syntax absorb the readers’ projections, a feat worthy of the Joyce of FINNEGAN FUNAGAIN; and in his 2005 DON JUAN, the fugueing novella that followed the 2003 GREDOS he showed that you could write both forward and backward in time while standing in one place. – I know it is all a little much, the fellow just turned 65 and has published 60 books, and sometimes I wish I’d never set eyes on him, but he can’t help it, he must write to stay healthy; his symptom is his salvation. And it is that of real readers.

It matters little that the so other-opinion-oriented Mr. Brown’s search for “opinions” yields so little of note; or that Handke is the whipping boy of miserable reviewers chosen by overly busy editors. Gordon has searched poorly. REPETITION and NO-MAN’S BAY are regarded, rightly I think, as two of the great novels of the past hundred years, e.g. William Gass’s estimate of them. Since Gordon cites the Book Forum review, I would like to point out that as a professor of literature he might be aware of the classical tradition of Goethe, Stifter, Flaubert, Hermann Lenz and Bove in whose steps Handke, the last great walker on the earth, exerts himself as someone who is so infinitely of his medium’s contemporaneous possibilities; and to sensitive responses in the

1] LA TIMES — Thomas McGonigle
2] Washington Post — Guy Vanderhaegen
3] San Franciso Chronicle — Christopher Byrd

as well as to sites and blogs I and others run on Handke accessible via: http://www.handke.scriptmania.com

These not only contain a wealth of material, but there Handke, his own severest critic, also is critiqued on his own terms; and flinches at every lash of the whip!

Gordon’s reading of DEL GREDOS shows me that he is the wrong reader, responder for this book, written in large part to memorialize, salvage a landscape. He bristles at being shook up.

———

MICHAEL ROLOFF 714-660-4445 Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: http://www.roloff.freeservers.com/about.html

MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!” {J. Joyce} “Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde” [von Alvensleben]

20 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The New York Times Sunday Book Review had a review of the latest of Handke’s novels, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, to be translated into English. It’s not so positive:

Handke’s didactic refusal to let us make of his book what we will, his sedulous effort to keep us dizzy and confused, is, more than anything else, a way of infantalizing his readers. By the time we’re done, we’re feeling so put upon, so talked at, that it’s difficult to respond with anything but adolescent sullenness.

20 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Peter Sís, whose art graces this year’s Reading the World poster, was interviewed this weekend on NPR about his new book, The Wall.

16 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Penguin UK has re-designed their website.

When Philip asked me to write a short blog post (and it will be short, I promise) about the redesign of the www.penguin.co.uk website, he mentioned a few things he was particularly interested in; the changes to the site, the reasons for those, the challenges faced and the role of the website in the business.

15 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

They got Norman Mailer to use the LongPen.

You know how we feel about the LongPen, so it was good to see they got a little dig in at the end of the article: “...even if many of us made a respectful early exit rather than watch the great man submitting to the arcane indignities of the LongPen.”

15 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

Benjamin Lytal is at it again, this time reviewing José Maria Eça de Queirós’ The Maias. He is considered the greatest Portuguese writer, and I was just thinking about checking into him; Agualusa kept bringing him up in The Book of Chameleons. As usual, New Directions is way ahead of me. I wish they weren’t quite so good, but it’s nice to know somebody out there is looking after my interests.

But as I read on, into the long straightaway that, comprising only two years of the novel’s 70-year narrative, takes up the majority of its pages, I began to appreciate Eça’s emotional point. Where a character such as Homais, Flaubert’s pedantic pharmacist, stays face up, a fool, in reader’s minds, Eça’s aristocratic fools have a flip side: Their civic and national damnation. Ridiculous as they may be, they always have the excuse of whistling in the darkness. In Eça’s hands, a Flaubertian fool becomes a tragic symbol.

It’s not exactly a rave from Mr. Lytal—“But, as a builder of novels, Eça may deserve some immortality. “The Maias,” in its 600-page heave, does go somewhere.”—but it’s definitely going on the reading list.

13 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Siddhartha Deb on the effect of empire on Indian literature.

But there is another kind of collaboration, one harder to categorise, and that is with publishers in the west. Writers working in English find that being read in India is still an after-effect of being published in Britain or America, in spite of the growing body of literature in English that is being published initially, or even exclusively, in India. Publication in the west has always been crucial, right from Graham Greene’s intervention on behalf of RK Narayan around the time the Progressive Writers’ Association was being formed, but it became a noticeable phenomenon only when the presence of Indian writers in the west began to coincide with other global trends: the increasing interest of the west in India as a market and the desire of a rising Indian elite to flaunt its affluence on a global scale.

10 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Boston Globe has an excerpt from Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, which is:

a collection of 22 poems by 17 detainees at the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay. Edited by Marc Falkoff, each poem had to be cleared by the Pentagon.

I think this book—which also features an afterword by Ariel Dorfman —is quite a coup for the University of Iowa Press. The University of Iowa, in addition to the U of I Press, also supports the intriguing Autumn Hill Books, who seek to make “fine translations of primarily contemporary literature from around the world more widely available in English.”

10 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Elegant Variation is giving away a copy of Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the exiled Kenyan author who now teaches at UC-Irvine.

Here’s an interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o—talking about Wizard of the Crown—on the Leonard Lopate show.

9 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The poet and novelist Taslima Nasrin has been attacked at the launch of her book Shodh (Getting Even) in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Reports suggest that a crowd of between 20 and 100 protesters, led by three local politicians (MLAs) belonging to the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party, burst into the Hyderabad press club shouting slogans describing Nasrin as “anti-Muslim” and “anti-Islam”. They ransacked the venue, throwing chairs and overturning tables, as well as reportedly slapping the writer in the ensuing melee.

9 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Lars Saabye Christensen’s last novel to be translated into English, The Half Brother, won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2002 (the year after one of my favorite novelists, Jan Kjaerstad), and was shortlisted for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The epic family saga, which runs to some 700 pages, was met with almost universal critical praise. It is one of those books that sits on my shelf and makes me feel guilty that I haven’t read it yet. So, I was particularly excited to get a chance to review The Model, the latest of Christensen’s novels to be translated into English.

According to Christensen, The Model has been viewed as a departure for him:

[He] reports that Norwegian critics have commented on the difference between the new novel and its predecessors. Here, he never names the city it is set in, whereas his other fiction very much belongs to Oslo.

Unfortunately, I think the novel is something of a failed experiment.

The Model is the story of Peter Wihl, a 49-year-old painter whose best years as an artist are behind him. He leads a more or less standard bourgeois life, with a wife, Helene, and a 6-year-old daughter named Kaia. As the story opens, Peter is working on a new set of paintings, which he hopes will recapture the promise that his most famous, and first, exhibition had shown over 20 years ago. However, Peter isn’t able to find his inspiration, and shortly thereafter he begins to experience mysterious blackouts, which he attempts to keep secret, not wishing to worry his family or his long-time friend Ben—who also exhibits Peter’s work at his gallery and anxiously awaits some progress on this new set of paintings.

Peter isn’t able to maintain his secret for long, however, and he soon discovers that he is suffering from a degenerative—and, to Peter’s horror, genetic—eye disease, which will render him blind in six months. Although his doctor informs him that there is no cure, he will still be able to live an otherwise normal, healthy and long life. Desperate to finish his paintings, and to escape the quickly approaching darkness, Peter turns to a long-forgotten schoolmate who suddenly reappears during this difficult time, the ophthalmic surgeon, and all around shady character, Thomas Hammer.

Thomas promises Peter that he can perform an operation which will save his eyesight, but he refuses to provide any details about the operation. At first reluctant, his ever increasing desperation leads Peter to agree to the procedure, and in so doing he risks his life, and his relationships with his wife, child, and best friend for the sake of his art.

As I said above, I was looking forward to reading this novel a great deal. Everything I read about The Half Brother led me to expect a strong and interesting plot, a full range of thoughtfully-drawn characters and a happy surfeit of style. Unfortunately, The Model doesn’t have any of these things.

The characters aren’t drawn by Christensen in sufficient depth to convince the reader that they will behave in any way that wouldn’t serve the plot. Thomas Hammer, the shady ophthalmic surgeon, acts shady—at one point Christensen goes completely off the rails, dragging Peter and Thomas through an absolutely inexplicable ‘school reunion’ scene, simply to convince us that Thomas is a disreputable guy. The loyal Ben acts loyal and does little else (except go through a non sequitur romance that disappears as randomly as it appears, leaving hardly a ripple on the surface of the story). Peter’s wife Helene, who is also supposed to be a successful artist, appears in the novel only to bicker with Peter.

And it’s because of these essentially one-note, unchanging characters, including Peter, that the plot seems so uninteresting. If I found Peter to be a compelling character, perhaps it would be easier to accept the mawkish, conventional plot—famous painter struggling, painter suffering mysterious illness, painter going blind any day now!, painter trying to paint his 6-year-old daughter (really?), painter making a deal with the devil to get his eyesight back, and so on—to accept the otherwise uninteresting supporting cast, and easier to find a way to some sympathy for these people.

There is nothing subtle about this novel, nothing which suggests that the characters in the novel are dynamic, changing, or complex human beings, nothing in the writing to draw you into the story, and nothing in the story which reaches beyond its own, very narrow, parameters to the world outside.

If you’d like to read Christensen, I’d steer clear of The Model and check into The Half Brother, or wait for his next novel to be translated.

The Model
Lars Saabye Christensen
translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Arcadia Books
paperback, £11.99

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

Issue number 20 of Dalkey Archive’s CONTEXT is available online now, in part.

For some reason, the only items available online are articles about Dalkey’s books, or excerpts from those books. Without the potentially most interesting content—the frustratingly absent “Letter from Macedonia” and “Letter from Poland”, among other articles—it’s tending toward the simply self-promotional.

To be fair it’s only the online version, but the online version is the only way many of us can find this usually excellent publication.

EDIT: We must have caught them in the middle of updating the site. It looks like everything is available now.

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

The New York Sun has a review of a new essay/biography on Tolstoy’s marriage, featuring photographs taken by his wife, Sophia. It sounds like it has the potential to be a really fascinating book, but Mr. Munson doesn’t really fancy it.

It’s doubly unfortunate, then—and a reflection of Ms. Bendavid-Val’s weakness as an editor—that these two streams of text outmatch in volume the images collected in this book. Simply gathering Sophia’s photos and permitting them to speak for themselves would have proved a far more successful tactic for delineating the contours of her domestic and intellectual life.

It’s also deeply ironic that, even though Ms. Bendavid-Val makes abundant use of the most private materials of Tolstoy’s wife, who was closer to him than any other person, her book does not approach in any way the unforgiving clarity that endows Gorky’s memoir with such power. It speaks very ill of a book taking these two as its twin subject that it never manages to rise above the status of literary curio.

That’s not what you’d call a favorable review, but it sure makes Gorky’s Reminiscences sound like a must read for Tolstoy fans.

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

Here’s a short piece on Amir Valle, who has been forced out of Cuba and now lives in exile in Germany.

The 17-year-old son of his wife Berta is now living alone in the flat in Centro Habana, because Amir Valle has been a persona non grata in Cuba since July 2005. That’s when the writer and his wife travelled to the Spanish town of Gijon, as they had done the year before, to participate in the Semana Negra crime fiction festival. But the couple were denied permission to return to Havana, explains Valle in his flat in Berlin with a glum look. The flat was part of a stipend offered him by the German PEN centre. Since August 2006 Valle has been a “writer in exile,” and the small signs with the German words taped to all the objects in the apartment show he doesn’t expect to go home soon. His name is cursed in Havanna, he says, just as those of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas were cursed in the past.

7 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Scott has a link to an essay on Ismail Kadare, which appears in the Chattahoochee Review.

The Palace of Dreams, written in Tirana between 1976 and 1981, takes us into an entirely different universe set at the fictitious crossroads of a twentieth century dictatorship and the fourteenth century Ottoman Empire. Characters from those ancient times mix with contemporary characters—state employees and office clerks reminiscent of Kafka’s world—in a bureaucratic labyrinth identical to any other bureaucracy, save for its purpose: to collect, sort, interpret and finally choose the “Master-dream” of all the dreams dreamt throughout the Empire, and to decipher in it the fate of the Empire and of its rulers.

The Palace of Dreams incorporates the traits of all powerful secret institutions—one cannot help think of the Sigurimi, the Albanian Secret Police of the Communist era—as well as the characteristics of an almost Totemic figure, a Kafkaesque Castle whose rules no one can figure out. Kadare himself has declared that this is probably his best novel from a literary standpoint, and very likely his most courageous, an opinion the Albanian Communist regime must have agreed with, considering that shortly after its release the novel was banned.

But Kadare’s genius is such that, in the end, the Palace of Dreams has no precise signification, except that revealed by its name. It is a fabulous, otherworldly place where the “real world” doesn’t exist, sleep is reality’s only substance, and it isn’t the real, as we know from Freud, that brings the dream into being, but the other way around. Thus, at the end of the novel, one of the dreams that the main character, Mark-Alem Quprili, who works at the Palace, sorted and filed at the beginning of the novel, makes an unexpected appearance, literally acting upon the present and causing the drama the reader has been anticipating all along.

Kadare is someone I’ve always meant to read—especially his General of the Dead Army —but I’ve never managed to get to him yet. This essay is awfully inspiring though.

6 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Nazik al-Mala’ika who has died aged 83 was one of the most influential Arab poets of the 20th century. Her life and work reflected the history of her native Iraq – idealism, hope, disappointment, exile, depression. Like others of her generation she was influenced by English poetry and pioneered the breakaway from the formalistic classical modes of poetry that had prevailed in Arabic poetry for more than 1,000 years.

3 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

PW reports that Kinokuniya, the largest bookstore chain in Japan, is opening a 24,000 square foot store in NYC this fall. 24,000 square feet!

They already have a store in Rockefeller Center that is a measly 13,000 square feet, which, despite the fact that I used to walk by it every day on my way to work for 5 years, I went in only once. I think to look at their Go boards. Yes, I’m that kind of nerd.

Kinokuniya’s philosophy is that bookstores should function as centers for the promotion of culture and the arts, and not merely as outlets for selling books. “The new store will focus on Japanese arts and culture; Anime; fashion and cooking,” said spokesperson Brent O’Connor.

2 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Charles Simic, two-time winner of the PEN Translation Award, will be named U.S. poet laureate by Congress today:

Mr. Simic, 69, was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and immigrated to the United States at 16. He started writing poetry in English only a few years after learning the language and has published more than 20 volumes of poetry, as well as essay collections, translations and a memoir.

1 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Literal #9 (“a forum where the most important Latin American creative expressions converge and…a vehicle for the expression of new voices”) is out now, although it appears you can only see the table of contents online.

1 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Sealines Project from Literature Across Frontiers “links six European port cities with a tradition of literary bilingualism through a series of writers’ and artists’ residencies. The cities involved are four capitals: Cardiff, Helsinki, Riga and Valletta, and two regional ports: Galway on the West Coast of Ireland and Koper (Capodistria) on the Slovenian coast.”

30 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Bookslut has an interview with Dedi Felman from Words Without Borders, in which she discusses their new site design and how difficult it is to pull this amazing literary resource together.

30 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A collection of Russian book jackets from 1917-1942.

30 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

When Ugandan fiction writer and poet, Monica Arac de Nyeko, was recently declared the winner of the 2007 Caine Prize for African Writing, her first reaction was a feeling of triumph.

Her many years of trying to bring the Ugandan woes to the ‘conscience of the world’ had finally paid off.

“From the early 1970s, there were hardly any writings from Uganda because of wars and conflicts in our country,” Nyeko told the Sunday Standard in an interview.

30 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Andreas Huyssen reviews Gunter Grass’ memoir Peeling the Onion in The Nation, and really gets into the onion metaphor.

26 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A couple of fantastic jacket designs from Argentinian designer Juan Pablo Cambariere.

26 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

P.O.L. has published an edition of the notebooks of Marguerite Duras, someone who I have only recently begun to read. I feel ambivalent about reading ostensibly private material, although, truthfully, if it’s an author I care about, I invariably seek out their notebooks or journals. I suppose once an author opens up something about themselves, which is what writing for a public space amounts to, it’s difficult for people who become attached to that writer to respect a boundary that has already been significantly blurred by the author.

Cahiers de la guerre et autres textes is a collection of notebooks that Duras wrote between 1943 and 1949. Diary-like entries recounting important events from childhood are mixed with early drafts of novels, particularly Un Barrage and La Douleur; there are also some mostly unpublished short stories. The editors, Sophie Bogaert and Olivier Corpet, have done a fine job in making sense of what must have been an unruly heap of papers. They have chosen to publish the notebooks in simple novel-size form, rather than reproduce them more faithfully, as a lavish photograph album. What would this encourage, they ask in the preface, but a fetishized engagement with each idiosyncratic scribble of Duras’s pen? Instead we have just a few photographs of the original notebooks and the far more useful textual reprint, completed by a carefully compiled index. This format forces an even more impartial and critical eye on the quality, free from the Duras aura, of the material.

....
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