15 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the “ten finalists for the 2014 BTBA in Fiction have been announced,”: it’s worth taking a look back at the reasons “why these books should win” according to the judges and other readers. Below is a list of all ten finalists, with links to their individual write ups along with a key quote from each.

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)

Horses of God is narrated from beyond the grave by one of four childhood friends who wrench an existence in the Sidi Moumen slums in Casablanca. They form a soccer team that competes with teams from the other slums and dream of a soccer as a vehicle to escape from the squalor, violence, and unemployment. However, their fate is changed when they are attracted to a religion that offers them guidance and purpose, and training in martial arts.

Their choices and decisions transform them from lives of despair to religious extremism, and ultimately to become suicide bombers. The book is based on the 2003 suicide bombings at Casablanca’s Hotel Farah.

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)

In a year of stiff competition, including from Archipelago’s other leading candidate for the BTBA, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book TwoBlinding stands apart as a work that transcends the intimate thoughts of the central male narrator and expands a vision of reality to include all dimensions of time and space. Seriously, it’s a wild read. And it’s weird to see Knausgaard compared to Proust, when Knausgaard’s My Struggle reminds me far more of Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, you live fully inside the minutiae of mundane daily existence wherein the narrator making his way through the world. Cărtărescu is far more akin to Proust in that he traces out the full extents of what the human mind and its capacity for memory can contain and create at once: the brain is a dangerous tool, and the weapon of memory can destroy us even as it liberates us out of the mundanity of our existence. Memory is everything, and you have the power to create memories out of nothing. Blinding is an experiment in memory-creation. Mythmaking is memory-creation. Memory is power. Memory is existence.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)

There is something about Elena Ferrante as a writer that is difficult to ignore. She never misses a beat. Her novels, as varied as they are, don’t waver; they are consistently thoughtful, provocative, smothering and honest. This novel was my personal pick to be put on the longlist. She has been brilliant for so long and deserves the Oscar. Her brilliance isn’t limited to her mechanics, her finesse or her creativity as a writer, but it’s her willingness to continually address the psychological machinations of women who have very unfeminine feelings.

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)

How to describe a book as affecting and unusual as Tirza I could cobble together a few puffed-up jacket blurb superlatives—something like, “Hilarious Disturbing Subtle Horrific Masterpiece,” or maybe “Psycho-Cultural Familial Catastrophic Tour-De-Force.” But no, the best way to proceed in this instance is to accept that, confined to this meager space, I won’t be able to do justice to this irreducible book.

So I should start by admitting that I was totally unprepared for Tirza. To be honest, I would be scared to meet the person who is prepared for it. Two paragraphs in, I understood the caliber of writer I was dealing with. By the second page I had already laughed out loud. And from then on I was hopelessly immersed in the pathetic, compelling world of Jörgen Hofmeester.

My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)

I’ve read three volumes of My Struggle so far, and I’m almost certain that I like Vol 2 the best. I hate comparisons of My Struggle to Proust because they always end up being purely superficial, but I’m going to make another superficial comparison for reasons that I hope will be evident: I kind of liken this volume to the second volume of Proust. Nine out of ten people adore Within a Budding Grove the most of all volumes of Proust because it’s the love volume. Proust is using all of his talents to describe love at its most rapturous and incandescent phase, and he’s processing it through his own memory, which of course makes it even more romantic and memorable. Not to mention, love stories tend to make for great narratives, another thing that makes the second volume of Proust much easier to read and more memorable than other volumes. There’s a certain sort of immediacy there that’s hard to match with any other kind of story.

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)

Krasznahorkai, like Beckett, writes like a pilgrim whose temple has been destroyed, who owns nothing but the bruises on his feet. To our astonishment, he shows us that the concerns we thought we had left behind — how to make art as an offering and a plea to the gods, for example — are in fact terribly modern. As we journey through the seventeen chapters of Seiobo There Below — each of which displays remarkable erudition, pathos, and humor — we come to understand the urgency of our spiritual predicament, the poverty and despair that we have chosen and that is beyond our power to undo.

But even there at the edge of the apocalypse, Krasznahorkai offers us two beaten pearls of hope.

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)

In her prologue (which, by the way, contains what is probably the best piece of writing about writing I’ve ever read), Mizumura outlines her intent in A True Novel to execute a sprawling epic in the tradition of western classics—what in Japanese is called honkaku shosetsu, loosely translated as ‘true novel’. This form is presented in contrast to shishosetsu, or ‘I-novel’, the more traditionally Japanese novelistic form of autobiographical narrative. To this end, she employs none other than Wuthering Heights, reimagining Brontë’s classic in postwar Japan.

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)

In that narration, what impresses me most is the ambiguous specificity of the writing. Rey Rosa demonstrates a profound mastery of negative capability, all the more impressive given the diversity of his subject matter. He manages to evoke a world of complexity—Latino tourists and unquestioning locals, economic migrants and drug peddlers, and even French residents not all too far removed from their colonialist fore-bearers—with the sparsest of prose. His depiction of post-colonial Tangier, significantly evolved from the Tangier of his mentor Paul Bowles, is pitch perfect and rings true to my years in Morocco. For an author relating a story about the mutual incomprehension of cross-cultural encounters, Rey Rosa shows just how much he really gets people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. Occasionally, a quarter page exchange will distill the essence of hour-long conversations I’ve had with French people or Hispanics, or Moroccans.

Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)

That’s already one reason why this book should win the BTBA: it blows our (pre-)conceptions of Arabic literature out of the water. It certainly did mine. Sure, I’ve made my way through Naguib Mahfouz and Elias Khoury, and a variety of the translations of Arabic novels from the past decades, but I never managed to get much of a sense of anything earlier than, say, Tawfiq al-Hakim. Sure, there’s always the Arabian Nights, but that stands so distant and apart from everything else that it feels entirely separate. Arabic fiction – in translation – always seemed to be twentieth (generally later-twentieth) and twenty-first century fiction, much of it strongly shaped by so-called Western influences. And then I pick this up and get an electrifying jolt, finding a mid-nineteenth century literary work that is as radical and inventive as any modern novel. I thought I had a decent sense of modern Arabic literature, and suddenly I found myself exposed to a whole new layer underlying it all, throwing a whole new light on all of it.

The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

In its rough outlines, Jan Jacob Slauerhoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom (translated by Paul Vincent) sounds like the a great genre novel—time-travel! possession! conspiring monks! But like other great modernist works—this one was originally published in 1932—it uses its subject matter as a means to play with expectation and certainty. It is a strange book, at times difficult to follow as it shifts between characters and centuries, but it is also something of a page-turner. It brings to mind Joseph Conrad, but without quite the same ponderousness, and somewhat remarkably, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

15 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

All 25 titles on the 2014 Fiction Longlist are spectacular, so I’m sure this was a pretty brutal decision making process. Anyway, here are your final ten books:

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)

My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)

Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)

The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

11 March 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The wait is over. Listed below are the twenty-five titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting each and every one of these as part of the annual “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” series. It’s a fun way of learning about all of these diverse titles, and hopefully finding a handful that you personally want to read.

Speaking of diverse, I want to use this post to point out a couple of interesting facts about this year’s list:

  • Twenty-three different publishers have a book on this list, which is unprecedented;
  • There are translations from sixteen languages on this year’s longlist;
  • This year’s longlisted authors are from twenty different countries.

That’s a pretty solid spread. Not to mention the vast differences between these books: On the one hand there’s Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek’s Her Not All Her, a slim, exquisitely crafted Cahier; on the other, there’s Antonio Muñoz Molina’s gigantic In the Night of Time. There’s the two-volume slipcased A True Novel by Minae Mizumura and Stig Dagerman’s short story collection, Sleet. There’s a very unconventional Arabic work from the nineteenth century just now being translated for the first time, and there’s a novel about an execution from Mo Yan, the other Nobel Prize winner on the list.

Overall, it’s an excellent list, one that will be really tough to pare down . . . But that’s the job for this year’s brilliant judges: George Carroll, West Coast sales rep; Monica Carter, Salonica; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Sarah Gerard, Bomb Magazine; Elizabeth Harris, translator; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; Michael Orthofer, Complete Review; Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books; and, Jenn Witte, Skylight Books. I want to personally thank them all for their hard work.

But this is just the beginning—on April 15th we’ll announce the finalists for both fiction and poetry, and in the meantime, stay tuned to read about each and every one of the following “best translated books” of 2013.

Also, a special thanks has to go out to Amazon’s giving program, for once again making $20,000 of prize money available for the winning authors and translators.

I’ll post information about any and all celebrations for the BTBA 2014 here as soon as things are arranged. In the meantime, here we go . . .

Best Translated Book Award 2014 Fiction Longlist

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)

Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Israel; Feminist Press)

Sleet by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Steven Hartman (Sweden; David R. Godine)

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)

Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Austria; Sylph Editions)

My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)

Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull (Ukraine; NYRB)

The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Argentina; New Vessel Press)

The Infatuations by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain; Knopf)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)

In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Spain; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)

Through the Night by Stig Sæterbakken, translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella (Norway; Dalkey Archive)

Commentary by Marcelle Sauvageot, translated from the French by Christine Schwartz Hartley & Anna Moschovakis (France; Ugly Duckling Presse)

Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)

The Whispering Muse by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland; FSG)

The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol, translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker (Czech Republic; Portobello Books)

The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Spain; McSweeney’s)

Red Grass by Boris Vian, translated from the French by Paul Knobloch (France; Tam Tam Books)

City of Angels, or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Germany; FSG)

Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (China; University of Oklahoma Press)

7 September 13 | Chad W. Post |

I’ve been wanting to do monthly highlights of books coming out for a while, but thought to myself that, well, Flavorwire already does stuff like this, so why bother. Then I remembered that Flavorwire is the worst, so here we are.

High Tide by Inga Ābele. Translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis. ($15.95, Open Letter Books)

Yep, I’m leading it off with one of our books. A book by a former student of the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation Program and our current editor. (Flavorwire would never do something like this.) Anyway, aside from the selfish plug for Open Letter and Kaija, I want to say three things:

1) This is a beautifully written book that relates a woman’s life more-or-less in reverse chronological order, demonstrating, in consistently surprising ways, the choices that led to her current state and feeling that “life is a prison” and that everything for her keeps restarting and restarting. We talked about this at our Book Clüb yesterday and people admitted that it made them cry. So that;

2) This is the first Latvian novel to be published in the U.S. in English translation; (NOT TRUE! This book existed at some point.)

3) This comes out on September 26th, and to promote it ahead of time, we’re selling the ebook version for $3.99 this week, $5.99 next week, $7.99 the week after, and $9.99 when the book launches. So get yours now! (Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo.)

Open Door by Iosi Havilio. Translated from the Spanish by Beth Fowler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)

All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão. Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)

After winning just about every award possible in the UK, And Other Stories—the indie press with the most interesting editorial selection process I know of—is finally branching out into the United States. Consortium will be distributing their books, and within six months, every major book news outlet will have reviewed their titles and be singing their praises. This is some high quality shit.

Open Door includes two of my favorite subjects in literature: Argentina and insane asylums. I read this a while back, but plan to reread it in advance of Havilio’s Paradises, which comes out next month. (I actually mentioned this book back in 2008 during my editorial trip to Buenos Aires.)

I read All Dogs Are Blue while I was in Brazil, not too far away from the asylum (THIS IS AN AND OTHER STORIES THEME) where Rodrigo de Souza Leão spent much of his life. It’s an amazing book, samples from which you can see here.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. ($18.00, Europa Editions)

One of the most recommended non-crime writers that Europa publishes and whom I haven’t read. Her books have been on my shelves forever, and one of these days . . .

All of the fans of The Days of Abandonment, or, more apropos, My Brilliant Friend, will rush out to get this, but for anyone not familiar with her, here’s a bit from the Shelf Awareness review that ran today:

With The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante picks up where she left off in My Brilliant Friend, following her two protagonists, Lila and Elena, from adolescence into their 20s. The novel, the second volume in a trilogy, is a treatise on life in Naples, a part of Italy that has nothing in common with Rome, Florence or Milan.

The two girls have a complex, intense relationship, with Lila leading the way and Elena trying to accommodate—at least at first. Lila has pulled herself out of poverty with an early marriage to a grocer’s son, whom she hates. Elena has continued studying, graduating from high school and going to university in Pisa.

The Mystery of Rio by Alberto Mussa. Translated from the Portuguese by Alex Ladd. ($16.00, Europa Editions)

There are only five works of fiction from Brazil coming out in the U.S. this year. (Three are on this list.) After visiting Rio and Paraty this summer, I MUST READ THEM ALL.

The Eternal Son by Cristovao Tezza. Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. ($19.95, Tagus Press)

Sticking with the Brazilian theme, here’s the latest from Tagus Press, a new outfit publishing only Lusophone writers. This book—about a father whose son is born with Down syndrome—sounds a bit like Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter.

Between Friends by Amos Oz. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. ($14.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Since the day we launched Three Percent, I’ve been making fun of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s website. Not that any of the Big Five websites were spectacular, but for years it seemed like Houghton Mifflin was playing some kind of demented game with readers trying to find out information about their books. You had to click through 6 or 20 links to find a list of new releases, which then, just to make things interesting, were never quite in alphabetical order. The search engine ran on AltaVista or Ask Jeeves!, and for a while Jose Saramago was a digital persona non gratis.

Well. Things are now better. This website doesn’t look like vomit. It makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. I typed in Amos Oz, and actually received results about Amos Oz. The fact that these are grand improvements is depressing at best, but still, way to go HMH!

Except maybe for the fact that this is all the info on the HMH site about Between Friends:

A provocative new story collection from the internationally celebrated author of A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Really? Christ. At least I can still rely on HMH for providing good comedic fodder. Keep up the bumbling!

Gods of the Steppe by Andrei Gelasimov. Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz. ($14.95, AmazonCrossing)

This is the third Gelasimov book that AmazonCrossing has published, the other two being Thirst and The Lying Year. The fact that Marian Schwartz translated this is enough to make me want to read it. She is the best.

Sudden Disappearance of the Worker Bees by Serge Quadruppani.& Translated from the Italian by Delia Casa. ($23.95, Arcade)

Over the past month I’ve read Generation A by Douglas Coupland, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and And Still the Earth by Ignacio de Loyola Brandão, fairly different books, but all of which are set in the future and involve a world in which no one reads, and there are no more bees. Sure, I’d heard mention of colony collapse disorder before, but, like America, I didn’t really care all that much. But reading these books, I realized that with no bees, we have no apples. And no apple crisp. According to Wikipedia, one-third of the crop species in the United States involve bee pollination, including: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and strawberries. This is not good. Of course, as soon as I read these books and starting thinking about how fucked it is that one-third of the U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared last winter, my neighbor’s Time Magazine arrived with this beepocalyptic cover:

What the shit, Universe? I did not need this.

Faction by Juan Filloy. Translated from the Spanish by Rhett McNeil. ($16.95, Dalkey Archive Press)

Click on that link above to see just how “in process” Dalkey’s website is right now. Nevertheless, this book was announced with a September pub date, and man do I hope it comes out soon. I actually signed this on—along with Op Oloop way back in the early 2000s. (Writing “early 2000s” and realizing that is an accurate statement makes me feel old.) I forget how we first came across Filloy—who is mentioned in passing in Cortázar’s Hopscotch, lived in three centuries, and used seven-letter titles for all of his books—but all of his books sounded really interesting. Especially this one, which is about “seven erudite, homeless, and semi-incompetent radicals traveling from city to city in an attempt to foment a revolution.” SOLD.

3 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Tomorrow morning we will unveil the 25 works of fiction that made the “Best Translated Book of the Year” longlist, but as a prelude, I thought I’d highlight a few titles that didn’t make it and a couple of magazines that deserve some special recognition.

A twenty-five title longlist might seem like a lot, but it was actually pretty difficult to choose the 25 best fiction titles from all of the great works of international fiction that came out this year. And inevitably a few worthy titles had to be left off. Arguments could be made for any number of titles that didn’t make it, but the ones I think deserve honorable mention are:

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions). Ferrante’s first book, Days of Abandonment really put Europa Editions on the map, and this book is really good as well.

Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes, translated from the Portuguese by Cliff Landers (Dalkey Archive). Martin Riker of Dalkey Archive said that this was one of the best translations Dalkey published this year, and that it is a “really intricate, sophisticated piece of translating. The book is very complicated, and I completely agree that Cliff did a remarkable job with this.

The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter Fogtdal, translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally (Hawthorne Books). Joanna Scott blurbed this book, saying “There’s a potent mix of heartbreak and hilarity in this vividly imagined novel . . . The dwarf Sorine is completely spellbinding.” Larissa Kyzer agreed in the review she did for us.

To Siberia by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born (Graywolf). Out Stealing Horses, last year’s breakout novel for Petterson—and in some sense for Graywolf as well—was a finalist for the Best Translated Book award. There’s more Petterson to come — Graywolf is doing I Curse the River of Time, which is a finalist for this year’s Nordic Prize — so he’ll have more chances.

The most beautifully designed book that didn’t make the longlist has to be Bohumil Hrabal’s Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp, translated from the Czech by David Short (Karolinum Press). The book itself sounds fantastic—“On its surface a verbatim record of an oral interview conducted by Hungarian journalist László Szigeti, the book confuses and confounds with false starts, digressions, and philosophical asides.”—and although you can’t tell from the online image, the book itself is very sharp and the pages are very creamy (as fellow panelist Jeff Waxman called them).

If the year actually started in October 2007, sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre by Dolores Dorante would’ve definitely made the poetry list. It was translated by Jen Hofer and published by Counterpath, one of the most interesting new presses out there. Steve Dolph is a huge fan of this book—if only its publication had been delayed a few months . . .

In terms of magazines, Absinthe, Calque, and Two Lines are three of the most impressive translation-oriented publications out there. (Along with Words Without Borders, of course.) All three are well edited, filled with exciting content, and beautifully produced. I especially like the unique size and shape of Two Lines. Not to mention a subscription to any one of these would make a fantastic holiday present . . . Just saying.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we’ll release the complete longlist . . .

1 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Our latest review is of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter. This is the third Ferrante book Europa has published. The first—The Days of Abandonment—is part of this year’s Reading the World program and helped launch Europa Editions a few years back.

This review is written by Monica Carter, who works at Skylight Books in Los Angeles—one of the best independent bookstores in the country. (And one of the few that’s expanding . . .) She’s very dedicated to promoting international voices and independent presses, and will be reviewing more for us in the near future.

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

“I’m an unnatural mother,” the protagonist, Leda, says of herself.

In this brave and searing novel by Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter explores the psyche of a woman who regrets having children. Leda is a modern Italian woman. She is divorced. She is an accomplished professor. And she is comfortable being alone. She decides to take herself on six-week vacation off the Ionian coast to prepare for the upcoming school year. She lounges on the beach, and almost immediately, she becomes obsessed with a young mother and her little daughter. Before we realize it, we are accompanying her on deep psychological self-examination of her life as a mother, and how perhaps she never wanted to be or never should have been.

“When my daughters had moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn’t upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then I had definitively brought them into the world.”

Because Ferrante writes this book in the first person, Leda’s thoughts, feelings and confessions have an immediacy that is disturbing and difficult, at times, to take. We learn that Leda hasn’t been a good mother, but we still want to understand her. Ferrante handles this expertly with her narrative abilities, never giving us less than the truth, no matter how much it makes us want to turn away. It is unsettling to read Leda’s memory of her reaction to her daughter cutting her finger as she tried to peel an orange:

“She was five and immediately in despair: the blood flowed, along with tears of disappointment. I was frightened, yelled at her: I couldn’t leave her alone for a moment, there was never time for myself. I felt that I was suffocating, it seemed to me that I was betraying myself. For long minutes I refused to kiss her wound, the kiss that makes the pain go away. I wanted to teach her that you don’t do that, it’s dangerous, only Mama does it, who is grownup. Mama.”

What makes Ferrante’s writing so compelling is that she does not compromise—no compromise for Leda’s analytical review of her motherhood, no compromise in emotional depth, and no compromise for the human condition. Although she deals with topics particular to women in this novel—as well as her first two novels, Troubling Love and Days of Abandonment—she avoids sentimentality and the common characteristics associated with feminine writing: refinement and sensitivity. The slightly masculine tone propels the narrative forward and lends credence to Leda’s unforgiving self-examination.

Leda’s journey parallels her developing relationship with the attractive young mother, Nina, who initially ignites Leda’s jealousy. Nina’s uncomplicated and pure love for her little daughter preoccupies Leda, and angers her as she realizes that she dislikes the little girl, “…that there was something off about the little girl, I don’t know what; a childish sadness, perhaps, or a silent illness.”

What is also striking about The Lost Daughter are the surprises that come from the characters behavior, not plot devices cleverly inserted to string us along. The characters are so well drawn, that we do not question their unpredictability, we merely accept it and want more. We see this best when the little girl loses her doll on the beach and Leda finds it, but keeps it without letting Nina know that she has her daughter’s doll. The child cries and screams, Nina and her family desperately search for the doll, and Leda watches this with detachment and we don’t find out until the end why she does this. The characters are intricate, their details revealed to us through Ferrante’s precision.

A major reason why the narrative flows so well is due to Ann Goldstein’s translation of Ferrante’s novel from Italian to English. Goldstein has translated all three of Ferrante’s novels flawlessly and with each effort she captures the nuances of the author’s style and intent. We forget that we are reading a translated work, which perhaps is the best indicator that we are in the capable hands of a masterful translator.

The Lost Daughter is a swift and mesmerizing work that reminds us of the darkness that resides in all of us and that the mistakes we make can serve as illuminations into our own psyche. We may not like what we find, but Ferrante shows us that it is in these moments that we know ourselves most intimately and that is reason enough.

The Lost Daughter
By Elena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions
125 pages, $14.95

27 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the seventh Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

Europa Editions started in 2005 as the English-language counterpart to Edizioni e/o, one of Italy’s most important publishing houses. Europa primarily publishes literature in translation, although they do do some English books (such as Steve Erickson’s latest) as well. And although the overlap isn’t 100%, Edizioni e/o is in the unique position of being able to publish a particular title in both Italian and English. (And with the recent creation of Sharq/Gharb, e/o’s latest publishing venture, you can add Arabic to that list as well.)

Anyway, one of the first titles Europa published was Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, which did remarkably well and helped create a legion of Europa Editions fans. (It’s remarkable how popular Europa is with booksellers. Their books have a distinctive design, are very literary, and manage to find a readership. And now that Europa will be distributed by Penguin it looks like they’re about to jump to the “next level” so to speak.)

Ferrante’s an interesting figure. According to the Europa website, she is “one of Italy’s most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, [but] has successfully shunned public attention and kept her whereabouts and her true identity concealed.” (There’s not much more available online either . . .)

As described on the Europa website, The Days of Abandonment

tells the story of one woman’s headlong descent into what she calls an “absence of sense” after being abandoned by her husband. Olga’s “days of abandonment” become a desperate, dangerous freefall into the darkest places of the soul as she roams the empty streets of a city that she has never learned to love.

Considered somewhat scandalous in Italy, the shocking and straightforward tone of this novel really appealed to readers all over the world. And it’s not hard to see why based on the opening paragraph:

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice. He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me. He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere. Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.

(The first four chapters are available online.)

I might be wrong, but I think this is the most successful book Europa has published to date. And it’s a perfect Reading the World book—definitely worth checking out.

And if you like The Days of Abandonment, or if you’ve already read it, you may want to check out Ferrante’s latest, The Lost Daughter, which was reviewed over the weekend in the Seattle Times. (The review includes this selling line: “The Lost Daughter, is about as sentimental in its view of parenting as a Mother’s Day card inscribed in battery acid.”)

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The Antiquarian
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Reviewed by P.T. Smith

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .

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Elsewhere
Elsewhere by Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Reviewed by Grant Barber

What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Reviewed by Chris Iacono

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

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Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

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

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

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

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Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

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

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

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

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

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