If you read Three Percent often, then you’ve already heard of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain. In case you’ve missed it, though, Wall is a collection of of stories and essays from over 30 writers (and nearly as many translators) “that witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain firsthand with the impressions and reflections of those who grew up in its wake.” All of these written pieces are surrounded by more than 70 photos, original documents, and other images. (As you can see, Wall has a surprisingly accurate subtitle.)
So, what’s new with Wall? Well:
-Over at the Wall in My Head blog there’s a newly posted excerpt from the book. This excerpt is part Paul Wilson’s fascinating essay “Tower of Song: How the Plastic People Helped Shape the Velvet Revolution.”
-Also, the Harvard Crimson has already run an early review.
-Finally, the books official pub. date is on Nov. 9 (the twenty-year anniversary of the wall of the Berlin Wall), but it’s freshly in from the printer, and it looks very cool.
Last Thursday was “Open Letter Day” at the Harvard Crimson, as the university daily newspaper covered three new Open Letter books: The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch, Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda, and Landscape in Concrete by Jakov Lind. (Typically, these links would be to our Indie Bookstore of the Month, but Shaman Drum’s online catalog doesn’t have listings for these three titles . . . )
Will Fletcher’s review of The Mighty Angel really captures the humor and horror of this book:
he modern literary tradition—in particular, the Lost Generation writers and their contemporaries—has done something curious in romanticizing the throes of alcoholism. Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald were all raging alcoholics and filled their novels with characters who acted likewise. But never before, and rarely today, does a novelist confront addiction so intimately and personally as Jerzy Pilch in his recently translated novel, The Mighty Angel.
It’s unclear for whom the narrative is intended. As the narrator, Jerzy speaks to himself, speaks to his lover, speaks to himself again (this time sober), speaks to the girl in the yellow dress, and—it seems—speaks to us as well. In his own words, he is “writing about you and [he’s] writing about [himself] not only to show that true alcoholic prose does not end in death; it ends in life, and who knows how life will end.” His ambivalence towards alcohol abuse—and, for that matter, toward any direction for his life in general—composes the novel’s substance. This ambiguity forces Jerzy to face a constant struggle: “. . . therapists are striving to bring reality to the point of sobriety, whereas I’m striving to bring reality to the point of literature, and at a certain moment our paths inevitably diverge.”
And Jenny Lee’s praise of Landscape in Concrete is spot-on:
The dreamlike quality of the novel emanates from Lind’s ability to create sparse but symbolic landscapes and to fill them with characters whose simple exteriors incapsulate deeper historical echoes. Of course, the enchanting essence of the story is much more akin to that of the original Grimm stories than their doe-eyed Disney counterparts (it revolves around shocking wartime occurrences) but Lind’s gift for eccentric descriptions of characters and events transforms the more gruesome and explicit scenes into something strangely pallatable. Lind’s descriptions endow the starved, inhuman, and ruthless characters of the war with unreal qualities that make the whole narrative easier to digest.
Unfortunately, you can’t always go three-for-three, and in this case, it was Death in Spring that fell a bit short of Keshava Guha’s expectations:
While reading Death in Spring, Mercè Rodoreda’s final work, it is easy to forget how unlikely the publication of the book is. In Francisco Franco’s anti-Catalan Spain, Rodoreda faced not only suppression and exile but the extinction of her native language. Under Franco, Catalan’s very existence was threatened, banned outright in the public sphere and severely curtailed in the private sphere. In this context, while translations of Spanish language novels achieved worldwide fame and renown in the 1970s and 1980s, Catalan writers remained obscure, even after Franco’s death in 1975, when the ban on Catalan was lifted. With her translation of Death in Spring, Martha Tennent hopes to begin to redress this historic injustice.
How deeply unfortunate, then, that the novel itself cannot live up to the promise of a hidden classic. A brief work of only 150 pages, told in dense four-page episodes, Death in Spring creates a world at once strange and familiar: a nameless town characterized by brutal, gratuitous violence and the prevalence of the bizarre, narrated through an unusual set of eyes—those of a teenage boy. Rodoreda’s narrator is a remarkably dispassionate protagonist, remarking in turns on the macabre and the surreal with unflinching ambivalence.
Nevertheless, here’s one more instance of how the Harvard Crimson is one of the absolute best college newspapers out there. Good taste aside, how many other college papers review three literary titles in one day?
I just found out last week that the Harvard Book Store selected The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad as part of its Select Seventy program. As implied by the name, this program consists of seventy books selected by booksellers and buyers—all of which are sold at a 20% discount for the month.
Seeing any of our books on a “staff recommends” table gets me really excited, but this particular program gave me an idea . . . Since Three Percent is very much in favor of the continued survival of independent bookstores, each month we’re going to pick one and link to its online ordering system for all of the titles we feature/review on the site. And as the instigator of the idea, this month we’re going to focus on the Harvard Book Store.
And continuing with Open Letter titles for a second, we’ve gotten a lot of great coverage for our books recently, including a very positive reviews of Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis in both the Harvard Crimson and Literary License.
From the Harvard Crimson:
This ambitious endeavor is admirably achieved. Gavelis’ writing is a paragon of surrealist creativity and an intensely interesting read, filled with effortlessly intelligent prose and a wryly macabre voice.
And from Literary License:
Vilnius Poker is dense with ideas, literary allusions, historic events, mythological references, symbolism, and linguistic and philosophical theories. It invites and rewards careful study. Elizabeth Novickas’s nimble translation delivers the stylistic diversity that must have been intended by Gavelis. Just as beautiful and brutal elements coexist in the narrative, the prose is alternately poetic and crude.
Also, one of the best reviews of Fonseca’s The Taker and Other Stories recently came out in the London Review of Books. Daniel Soar’s review is incredibly thoughtful and complete, dealing with the violence in Fonseca’s stories in a very intelligent fashion. Here’s a short quote:
In Brazil, which since the 1970s has seen more urban violence than any other country in the world, no writer has dealt with the subject more plainly than Rubem Fonseca. In 1976 his bestselling short story collection Feliz Ano Novo (“Happy New Year”) was censored by a court acting for the military government. Five of the stories were banned, and the ban on the title story wasn’t revoked until 1989. [. . .]
The judges in the censorship case argued that the story might lead the average Brazilian astray. That would be a wholly ludicrous statement if applied to a piece of fiction written, say, in France, but “Feliz Ano novo” is precisely about what it claims is the average Brazilian; and it’s this claim that’s subversive, not the violence.
And just so it’s clear, all three of these books are currently in stock at the Harvard Book Store, and can be ordered online . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .