25 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Laura Radosh. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the bracket.

Artist-activist Maria is on the playing field of her current job when the sudden appearance of the daughter of her ex-best friend, Anna, sends her on a fragmented journey through her life and their friendship, never without political context:

The day PASOK wins the election, I lose my virginity. Now that’s what I call a “rendezvous with history.”

The trite humor is a bit disconcerting. Is this maybe just an intellectual romance novel after all? But the bad pass is forgotten with the description of the act that follows.

Fifteen-year-olds who want to have sex and at least try to enjoy it. Who smoke and discuss Barthes and go to demonstrations in passages that unabashedly use words like “freedom” and “revolution.” Amanda Michalopoulou scores a goal for completely believable 1970s teenagers.

Still, the political contextualization often slows down the game. No station in post-dictatorship, pre-crisis Greece is missing. Not to mention World Economic Forum protests in Geneva, oil company protests in Nigeria and, of course, Seattle, where “Kayo and I vomited side by side at the barricades.” Kayo, the good best friend taken off the bench to replace bad best friend, Anna. This is Maria and Kayo’s first meeting:

“Kayo you smell like Africa” He shoves me away. “No you don’t understand! I was born in Nigeria.” I hug him, sink my nose into his neck and breathe in the smell of Gwendolyn, grilled suya, soil after a tropical rain. Kayo’s eyes tear up—he must be pretty drunk too. Then he bends down and kisses my hand.

Now I’m perfectly willing to believe Maria thinks she’s not racist because she loves Gwendolyn, her childhood nanny. After all, she’s a weak-willed, naive, romantic idealist, although I’m not sure this is what I was supposed to take away from that paragraph. But that this reassures a twenty-something left black gay man? Suspension of belief only goes so far—this is realism after all. Penalty kick for the Ivory Coast.

But when we finally get the replay of the incident that turned Anna into an ex-friend, Michalopoulou scores again. Not so much for the event itself, and certainly not for the cave–subconsciousness metaphor that runs throughout the novel, but for the way in which it triggers Maria’s memory of the childhood trauma that led to her exile from Africa. For at least trying to acknowledge the specter of colonialism that haunts the global left. In a novel, you can kill your annoying best friend. What we will do with all the annoyance in the world no one knows.

But two goals don‘t make up for the fact that for most of Why I Killed My Best Friend, Michalopoulou is to-ing and fro-ing in midfield (‘to and fro’, according to Merriam Webster, is an adjective, noun, or adverb, but I am not obliged to use American English, so suck my dick).

That last convention is lifted from Allah Is Not Obliged. The ten-year-old narrator of Ahmadou Kourouma’s novel, Birahima, “the fearless, blameless street kid, the child soldier,” also uses a lot of dictionaries to tell the story of his time as a child-soldier in Liberia.

I need to be able to explain stuff because I want all sorts of different people to read my bullshit: colonial toubabs, Black Nigger African Natives and anyone that can understand French.

So you never get further than a couple of paragraphs without the intrusion of a definition. These interruptions are often infuriating, there’s no possibility of escaping into characters or narrative, but suddenly the Ivory Coast is scoring goals left and right. After all, child soldiers are always on drugs, maybe this is just the running commentary of a hash high. Or the dissociation necessary to retain sanity, a paean to the resilience of so many former child soldiers. Either way, it’s an absolutely brilliant idea that allows for one the most clear-headed explorations of atrocity I’ve ever read. And certainly one of the funniest.

A country is a fucked-up mess when you get warlords dividing it up between them like in Liberia, but when you’ve got political parties and democrats on top of the warlords it’s a big-time fucked-up mess.

Ivory Coast 4–Greece 2

——

Laura Radosh feels like she’s violated a FIFA rule for not letting an Open Letter book win. She’s also a translator living in Berlin who would have called a tie if she’d been judging the brilliant translations.

——

Did Allah Is Not Obliged Deserve to Win?

Yes
No


11 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Aleksandra Fazlipour on Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Purgatory, which is translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne and available from Bloomsbury USA.

Aleksandra did an independent study with me last semester to learn about writing book reviewing. She read a bunch of books, wrote and rewrote and rewrote her pieces, read all of the essays in the Words Without Borders “How to Review Translations” series, and became a much better writer and reviewer over the course of the semester. I meant to run her pieces throughout the semester, but classes (and ALTA and life and work and everything) kept me way too busy. So instead, I’ll run them every Friday for the next few weeks.

This is from the first review she ever wrote:

Emilia Dupuy is haunted by the memory of her missing husband, Simon Cardoso. During what seemed like a routine mapping expedition in Argentina for the couple (both of whom were cartographers), Simon vanished without a trace. A thread of hope is preserved in Emilia thirty years after his disappearance in spite of testimonies stating that he was detained, tortured, and murdered. Simon became one of the many “disappeared” that characterized Argentina in the wake of the Dirty War, and Emilia became one of the individuals left behind in her own personal purgatory, marked by uncertainty with regards not only to the whereabouts of her husband, but the direction of her own life and her place within her family. Tomas Eloy Martinez carefully constructs this tale of one woman’s struggle in Purgatory by mingling poignant emotion with gut-wrenching fact and allows the reader to effortlessly move between present-time New Jersey into the corrupt Argentina of yester-year characterized by propaganda-induced authority.

The true power of Martinez’s storytelling lies in is his ability to make his protagonist’s personal struggle secondary to the oppression of the Dirty War—he uses his artistic skill to enfold the reader not only into Emilia’s story but into the time itself, whisking the audience through 30 years in the blink of an eye. In hopes of finding her husband, Emilia fruitlessly following a series of ultimately inaccurate clues pointing to Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and finally the United States. The true angst in the story floods not from the pursuit itself but from the slow realization that these clues seem loosely linked to Emilia’s own father: Dr. Dupuy, a propagandist for the oppressive government regime itself. The irony almost makes the narrative humorous—Dupuy’s ideals enforce the statement “God, family, country,” but it seems increasingly clear to the audience and to Emilia that her father instigated Simon’s disappearance, and possibly his torture and murder, in order to further his own agenda and to keep Emilia among others from discovering the truth behind the government’s atrocities.

Click here to read the full review.

11 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Emilia Dupuy is haunted by the memory of her missing husband, Simon Cardoso. During what seemed like a routine mapping expedition in Argentina for the couple (both of whom were cartographers), Simon vanished without a trace. A thread of hope is preserved in Emilia thirty years after his disappearance in spite of testimonies stating that he was detained, tortured, and murdered. Simon became one of the many “disappeared” that characterized Argentina in the wake of the Dirty War, and Emilia became one of the individuals left behind in her own personal purgatory, marked by uncertainty with regards not only to the whereabouts of her husband, but the direction of her own life and her place within her family. Tomas Eloy Martinez carefully constructs this tale of one woman’s struggle in Purgatory by mingling poignant emotion with gut-wrenching fact and allows the reader to effortlessly move between present-time New Jersey into the corrupt Argentina of yester-year characterized by propaganda-induced authority.

The true power of Martinez’s storytelling lies in is his ability to make his protagonist’s personal struggle secondary to the oppression of the Dirty War—he uses his artistic skill to enfold the reader not only into Emilia’s story but into the time itself, whisking the audience through 30 years in the blink of an eye. In hopes of finding her husband, Emilia fruitlessly following a series of ultimately inaccurate clues pointing to Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and finally the United States. The true angst in the story floods not from the pursuit itself but from the slow realization that these clues seem loosely linked to Emilia’s own father: Dr. Dupuy, a propagandist for the oppressive government regime itself. The irony almost makes the narrative humorous—Dupuy’s ideals enforce the statement “God, family, country,” but it seems increasingly clear to the audience and to Emilia that her father instigated Simon’s disappearance, and possibly his torture and murder, in order to further his own agenda and to keep Emilia among others from discovering the truth behind the government’s atrocities.

As the novel progresses, the reader begins to question what is real and what is invented—both within the story and looking at the novel from a historical standpoint. There are some interesting parallels between Martinez himself and the author depicted in Purgatory who is relaying Emilia’s story—both are exiled writers from Argentina, and the character’s books share titles and topics with those published with Martinez himself. The events surrounding Dr. Dupuy’s villainous character are outlandish in a way that adds comic relief to the tense storyline in spite of being very serious and mirroring real-life events, which further blurs the line between truth and fiction. One moment he has Emilia move home to care for his ailing wife and the next he is sending his daughter reeling, which only perpetuates public rumors that she is insane, in search of her lost husband to get rid of her lest she learn too much about what is really happening in the government. Prior to his wife’s death he traipses around publicly with a successful woman, and the moment his mistress’ reputation wanes, she is mysteriously found dead (supposedly by suicide). For some reason Dupuy is compelled to secretively obtain treatment for his wife’s cancer. He forces a man to marry his favored daughter Chela and boosts his new son-in-law into riches for the sake of his daughter’s wellbeing, but the moment his reputation is questioned, he arranges it so his daughter becomes one of the disappeared alongside her husband and forsakes his relationship with his daughter entirely. Although Dupuy’s role seems very small at first, it gradually snowballs until the reader is struck by his importance not only in Emilia’s love story, but in post-Dirty War Argentina.

One significant scene captures Dupuy bartering with Orson Welles, who receives a cameo in the book. Dr. Dupuy begs Welles to create a film in which Argentina is shown as a “peace-loving country” where everyone is happy. This comes on the tails of a campaign in which two actors were sent across the country dressed as Mary and Joseph in something of a religious parody, trying to prove that the people would help and support them, but showing the exact opposite when most people not only rejected them but mocked and insulted them. Dupuy (who Welles refers to as Charlie) wants Welles to create an uproar, a national panic, that attributes the disappearances of many individuals to UFOs. Welles’s response is not only a refusal—it is a disclosure to the audience:

“Art is illusion, Charlie, reality is illusion. Things only exist when we see them; in fact, you might say they are created by your senses. But what happens when this thing that doesn’t exist looks up and stares back at you? It ceases to be a something, it reveals its existence, rebels, it is a something with density, with intensity. You cannot make that someone disappear because you might disappear too. Human beings are not illusions, Charlie. They are stories, memories, we are God’s imaginings just as God is our imagining. Erase a single point on that infinite line and you erase the whole line and we might all tumble into that black hole. Be careful, Charlie.”

With these words, Welles unveils the true nature of the disappearances and warns Dupuy that the government’s tenuous grasp on power is further weakening, and that a propagandist campaign can only go so far to reinforce power. Argentina is on the verge of tumbling into that black hole of purgatory, just as Emilia and many others whose loved ones’ disappeared already have, existing on a false sense of hope and security when certainty is absent. By the time the reader has to fully consider the idea that Emilia has unexpectedly been reunited with her husband, who has not aged after 30 years, the unrealistic magical air of the novel (largely established by Dupuy’s fantastical character) allows the reader again to question what is real and even permits events that are too fantastical to believe to waver on the edge of possibility—the reader is bound to ask, “is it likely that Emilia has, in fact, found the ghost of her husband?” While Emilia was characterized as the one who was crazy all along for not believing that her husband was dead when testimonies existed that proved otherwise, it seems feasible that those testimonies were also a creation intended to keep questioning at bay.

Overall, there is a beautifully created sense of horror that surfaces because, the more the reader knows about the corruption in the government, the less inclined he or she is to believe that Emilia, our protagonist, is insane in light of the insanity the government is attempting to hide. Overall, Tomas Eloy Martinez creates a historical thriller in which the characters and the audience alike must struggle to separate fact from fiction lest they get lost without a map in their own personal Purgatory.

14 March 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As with years past, we’re going to spend the next four weeks highlighting the rest of the 25 titles on the BTBA fiction longlist. We’ll have a variety of guests writing these posts, all of which are centered around the question of “Why This Book Should Win.” Hopefully these are funny, accidental, entertaining, and informative posts that prompt you to read at least a few of these excellent works.

Click here for all past and future posts in this series.

Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez, translated by Frank Wynne

Language: Spanish
Country: Argentina
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Why This Book Should Win: In part because Martínez died just a couple years ago, and has never gotten the recognition here that he deserves.

Today’s post is by Tom Flynn, bookseller and events coordinator at Seminary Co-Op in Chicago.

There’s a fair bit I can say about Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Purgatory. It is a political novel, a study of madness, a ghost story, a meditation on a rich culture that has spawned disastrously violent regimes: it is in many ways a culmination of Martinez’s life’s work. But I spend most of my time these days selling people books in twenty second blurbs that have to hook them on the spot, so a long explication of Purgatory_’s strengths isn’t really up my alley. So let’s start over and try this: _Purgatory is a startlingly addictive character study focusing on a woman’s search for her husband against the backdrop of a country gone mad.

OK, that probably needs a bit more explanation.

Briefly, Purgatory is the story of Emilia Dupuy and her search for her husband, Simon, who disappeared not long after their marriage. More accurately, Simon is disappeared by the Argentine junta during the military’s rule in the late 1970s and early ’80s. After spending decades chasing phantoms of him—despite eyewitness testimony and the reality of life under the junta, Emilia refuses to accept that Simon is dead—she settles in New Jersey to await Simon’s return. The novel begins thirty years after Simon’s disappearance in a chain restaurant where, looking up from her booth, Emilia sees Simon sitting just a few feet away and he hasn’t aged a day since she saw him last.

The events of the junta’s reign are well documented; the history is laid out. But Martínez takes those events and the ways in which an insane political system attempted to remake an entire nation and creates a beautifully personal history in Emilia’s life following her husband’s disappearance. The novel skips about in time, addressing the events of the day and Emilia’s place in them almost thematically, building her personality and the circumstances that bring her to the novel’s opening lines.

What Martínez achieves is a triumph of memory over historical events. By presenting Emilia’s history as a chaotic overlapping of occurrences he allows the personal perspective to take precedence over the factual occurrence. The carefully demarcated line of causation that explains the grand historical movement of peoples and countries from one moment to the next is cast aside in favor of the fragments, the coral that each individual generates. In unmooring this period of history Martinez brings its profound effects into starker relief. And by creating Emilia he makes the pain and misery forced upon his native country a more personal reality for the reader.

I might need to pare that down a bit to get it under twenty seconds.

6 March 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lian Law on Marcelo Figueras’s Kamchatka that came out from Black Cat/Grove Press back last year.

Lian Law was an intern and in my “Intro to Literary Publishing” class last semester, which is when she wrote this review. (And yes, we are that far behind in running all of these.)

Marcelo was actually in Rochester for an event last spring in connection with PEN World Voices. You can watch the full event below, or skip forward to see the reading and interview with Marcelo:

And here’s the opening of Lian’s review:

Kamchatka: a remote peninsula in the Russian Far East. However, to the ten-year-old narrator in Marcelo Figueras’s novel Kamchatka, it represents much more. It is a territory to be conquered in his favorite game of Risk, it is “a paradox, a kingdom of extremes, a contradiction in terms,” and it is the last thing his father ever says to him.

Kamchatka is Marcelo Figueras’s English novel debut, translated by Frank Wynne. A novelist and screenwriter, Figueras has published several other books including El espía del tiempo, La batalla del calentamiento, and Aquarium. He was born in Argentina in 1962 and similar to the narrator of Kamchatka, he was a young child at the start of the Argentina’s Dirty War in 1976.

Kamchatka chronicles the life of a young boy during this time of political instability and its suffocating climate of fear and violence. When he, his brother, and his parents, are suddenly forced to flee to a safe house, they must assume new identities. The boy renames himself “Harry,” after his hero and famous escape artist Harry Houdini while his five-year-old brother rechristens himself “Simón,” after Simon Templar in the TV show The Saint (although Harry continues to refer to him by his nickname, the “Midget.” Despite all the disruptions, fear and sudden disappearances of friends and family members, Figueras’s main goal is not to write another somber novel about the Dirty War.

Click here to read the entire review.

6 March 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Kamchatka: a remote peninsula in the Russian Far East. However, to the ten-year-old narrator in Marcelo Figueras’s novel Kamchatka, it represents much more. It is a territory to be conquered in his favorite game of Risk, it is “a paradox, a kingdom of extremes, a contradiction in terms,” and it is the last thing his father ever says to him.

Kamchatka is Marcelo Figueras’s English novel debut, translated by Frank Wynne. A novelist and screenwriter, Figueras has published several other books including El espía del tiempo, La batalla del calentamiento, and Aquarium. He was born in Argentina in 1962 and similar to the narrator of Kamchatka, he was a young child at the start of the Argentina’s Dirty War in 1976.

Kamchatka chronicles the life of a young boy during this time of political instability and its suffocating climate of fear and violence. When he, his brother, and his parents, are suddenly forced to flee to a safe house, they must assume new identities. The boy renames himself “Harry,” after his hero and famous escape artist Harry Houdini while his five-year-old brother rechristens himself “Simón,” after Simon Templar in the TV show The Saint (although Harry continues to refer to him by his nickname, the “Midget.” Despite all the disruptions, fear and sudden disappearances of friends and family members, Figueras’s main goal is not to write another somber novel about the Dirty War. By retelling the events through a child’s perspective, Figueras explores the impact this situation had on personal and family dynamics. In the face of this situation, Harry remains a typical young boy, reluctantly attending school, obsessed with TV shows, comic books, and superheroes. He spends his time playing Risk with his father and aspiring to learn the secrets of Houdini.

In addition to Harry’s ten-year-old perspective, the adult Harry is often a companion voice, reflecting upon and filling in information that his younger self was incapable of comprehending at that time. Harry reflects on the information he gathers about the political situation.

For a long time I thought that my parents told me these little things because they believed I wouldn’t understand the bigger picture—whatever it was they were not saying, whatever they were hiding from me. Now I think that they did it deliberately, knowing that by the time I put the pieces together and could finally see the picture in the jigsaw puzzle, I would be safe, far from the danger that, right now, threatened us all.

The novel is uniquely bookended by the same moment in time as Harry and his father see each other for the last time. The interior brings the reader back to the beginning and up until this specific moment. While the end scene contains much of the same wording as the opening, the father and son’s encounter and the parting words of “Kamchatka” are full of new meaning and significance. While the opening was distinctly told in a ten-year-old voice, the final retelling is much more reflective, informed by the adult Harry’s brief interjections throughout.

Harry’s voice is most impressive, creatively and perfectly interweaving the ten-year-old and his older self. The novel is structured in five main parts, all around school subjects. In doing so, Figueras brings attention to how children, Harry and his little brother included, learn and decode meaning from their own experiences. Figueras favors short chapters, each paint their own small portrait of Harry’s life. The 81 chapters reflect how a ten-year-old breaks down his life into small episodes, much like the way his favorite television show The Invaders does. These short chapters provide vivid and beautifully colored portraits of his family and the children’s humorous exploits and adventures. The novel is filled with small touches of childhood reminiscence; Harry practicing holding his breath in the bath tub, Harry learning to slip out of knots, Harry and his brother’s attempt to save toads from drowning in the safe house swimming pool by creating a “reverse diving board” and arguments over who is better: Superman or Batman.

In telling the story from Harry’s point of view, Figueras is able to highlight the importance of family, courage and sacrifice within the context of fear, separation and ultimately loss. In the end, Harry realizes that in order to survive you need to “love each other madly.” In retelling his story, he has brought the characters to life once more. Through this act of storytelling, he realizes that “I don’t need Kamchatka any more, I no longer need the security I once felt being far from everything, unreachable, amid the eternal snows. The time has come for me to be where I am again, to be truly here, all of me, to stop surviving and start living.”

29 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 17 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here.

Today’s post is written by Emily Davis, who is also conducting (and translating) all the interviews we’re running of these authors. Enjoy! And look for a special announcement related to the series later today . . .



Today we feature another talented young Argentine writer, Matías Néspolo. Born in Buenos Aires in 1975, he currently lives in Barcelona with his wife, three daughters, and their dog, Jonás. His first collection of poems, Antología seca de Green Hills, was published in 2005, and his short stories have been published in various anthologies. His first novel, Siete maneras de matar a un gato (2009) will appear in English as Seven Ways to Kill a Cat (2011). He is currently working on another novel of which the following (fantastic) passage is an excerpt, translated by Frank Wynne:

El Tano climbed the ladder to the shack cautiously, as though at any moment he might be run off by a shotgun. He reached up and ran his hand along the lintel, a rough-hewn beam that jutted out an inch or two above the door. The key was there. Just like Brizuela had said. But something was wrong. There was no chain, no padlock. The door was open. He nudged it gently with his foot and slipped the key back where he had found it.

The sound of footsteps made his skin prickle. The place was in darkness.

‘Roberto! Hey! What are you doing here?’

El Tano hesitated. The rasp of a match broke the silence, its flame outlining the slim figure of a girl lighting a kerosene lamp. She turned the wick down so it wouldn’t smoke, slipped the tulip-glass shade into place and hung it on a nail.

‘Don’t just stand there, come in…’ she said, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.

‘I’m not Roberto. You’ve got me mixed up with someone else.’

The girl stared at him, puzzled. She opened her mouth but no words came out. El Tano stepped inside and set down his backpack. He would be spending the night here anyway. He had no choice.

‘What are you being like that for? It’s Vero. Don’t you recognize me?’

She curled her lip in an expression of reproach. She had full, well-defined lips and a long, thin, freckled face. El Tano looked her up and down, racking his brain — nothing. He’d never seen this girl before; if he had he would remember. She obviously had him confused with someone else. He considered playing along but something in her eyes stopped him. Her pupils were like shards of graphite sunken in the honey of a pair of magnificent eyes which, despite their colour, had not a hint of sweetness about them.

‘We know each other?’ El Tano gently tested the water.

‘You’re freaking me out, Roberto,’ she said softly. ‘What’s the matter with you?’

If this was all an act, the girl had talent. El Tano tried to twist his mouth into something he hoped was a smile but it froze halfway in an expression of irritation. Or disgust. Half-heartedly, he started checking out the shack.

‘Nothing’s the matter,’ he said. ‘Just tired, is all.’

The reply had been instinctive, unthinking, but as he heard himself say the words, he felt goosebumps, as though he were taking on this other man’s identity without resisting. He hadn’t planned to play along but he was doing it anyway. It didn’t matter. Right now it suited him to be someone else. Anyway, if this girl wanted to think he was Roberto, or Juan de los Palotes, he couldn’t stop her.

This being my first encounter with Néspolo’s writing, I am delighted that he has been selected by Granta and hope that this will mean greater exposure for his work in the coming years. If this sample is any indication, he has an especially deft way of evoking place, along with skill in developing tension along an irresistible plot line. I look forward to reading the rest of the novel when it comes out. In the meantime, here are some words from the author on the cannibalistic nature of Argentine literature, and the question of national literatures in general:

I wonder whether, in an era of global travel and digital communication, it makes sense to talk about ‘national literatures’. Especially when it comes to Argentinia, whose national literature has a very brief history and was created from nothing in the desert, rather as the National State was invented by the generation who, in the 1880s, believed in progress and reason. Argentinia’s literature has always plundered and borrowed from elsewhere, co-opting as its own authors such as the Polish Gombrowicz, as well as works written entirely in French (Copi).

As usual it was Borges who first noted and advocated the cannibal nature of Argentina’s literature. In his famous essay El escritor argentino y la tradición he championed making “irreverent” use of the entire Western tradition – a process of ingesting and metabolizing other cultures and literatures that has come to define Argentina’s identity. It is easy to understand why tango, as the quintessence of what is Argentine,is a music that is played with a small Central European accordion and a Spanish guitar.

Nevertheless, beyond the cross-breeding, Argentine literature has always had particular qualities of its own. First of all, an enquiring spirit. Secondly, a constant search for formal innovation. And, last of all, but not in order of importance, a permanent state of hostility. Bellicose by nature, Argentine literature is always prepared for war, including war with itself. The Argentine literary scene is a perpetual battlefield in which various factions constantly try to redefine the canon.

You can read the whole thing here, from an interview with Vintage Books.

And finally, in case you’re feeling snubbed by that short excerpt from “The Bonfire and the Chessboard” above, you can read one of Matías Néspolo’s short stories, start to finish, over at Granta’s website. Below is the opening of “The Axe Falls,” (“El Hachazo”), translated by Beth Fowler, winner of Harvill Secker’s first Young Translators’ Prize, awarded last month.

Old Moretti has a lot of firewood still to chop, but his fingers are already stiff. Not to mention his toes. He can’t even feel them. His nose, on the other hand, burns as though it were submerged in boiling water. A long goat-hair scarf coils around his neck, a felt cloth swathes his head. On top of his improvised headgear, his wide-brimmed chambergo fits tightly.

He’s been swinging the axe for an hour now without stopping and he’s starting to tire. The years are taking their toll. The old man curses furiously at a small log that resists his efforts, until, finally, he loses patience. Moretti’s in no mood to waste time. He takes a deep breath and unleashes a tremendous blow. Spot on. Right on the grain. The air groans out of his chest in time with the strike. The log splits into three. But the axe breaks loose from his grip and buries itself blade down in the snow. Just next to his boot.

Moretti takes a few seconds to gather himself. His breath swirls in the blizzard. He bends to pick up the axe and finds that it is stuck fast. The handle is as cold as a block of ice. Which is odd, because his hands have been moving up and down it all the time he’s been working.

The old man gauges whether to leave it at that and go indoors. There’s no sense freezing just for a bit more wood. When the weather clears he’ll pick up where he left off. For the moment, he’s got enough to see him through the night. And tomorrow’s Sunday: Sergio – his son – will be coming. He’s been carving out a career in the city, with the Wool Dealers’ Syndicate, since he was a young man. By now, the old man figures, he must be general secretary. Moretti’s proud of him. In any case, he can ask him to lend a hand filling the woodshed. Then he can forget about it until the summer. Didn’t the boy say he would stay for a couple of weeks, that he had to take some time off? Two or three weeks will be more than enough, if the trees are already felled. All they’ll have to do is cut them into smaller pieces to fit into the stove.

Click here if you want to read the full story (and trust me, you want to).

And don’t forget, get this issue for free by subscribing to Granta.

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Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by Will Eells

Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .

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The Matiushin Case
The Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

The publisher’s blurb for Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case promises the prospective reader “a Crime and Punishment for today,” the sort of comparison that is almost always guaranteed to do a disservice to both the legendary dead and the ambitious. . .

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