4 June 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For all of you who like to buy your indie press books from an indie press distributor, you should head over to Small Press Distribution to take advantage of their Around the World Sale. All this month, select translation (click above to see the complete list) are available for 40% off. All you have to do is use the promo code: WORLD.

There are a lot of great books on the list, and the one that I’d recommend—which will come as a surprise to most all of you—is Magnolia & Lotus: Select Poems of Hyesim, a wonderfully translated collection of poetry from the first Korean Zen master who was dedicated to writing poetry. It’s a great book from a great press (White Pine) and the translation really is top notch.

Additionally, the featured press of the month at SPD is Host Publications, which means that all of their books are available for 40% off. Click here to see the complete list, which contains a host (see what I did there?) of great titles, including Mario Benedetti’s The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories and Nicanor Parra’s After-Dinner Declarations.

It’s also worth mentioning that SPD is the only nonprofit book distributor in the country, so purchasing a couple books from them not only enriches your reading experience, but helps support an organization that plays an absolutely vital role for a slew of small presses. In fact, without SPD, there are a ton of these presses that would be left without a distributor at all. So do a good deed for the book industry (the part that doesn’t suck) and get a few of these titles.

17 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

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

Click here for all past and future posts.

The Rest Is Jungle & Other Stories by Mario Benedetti, translated by Harry Morales

Language: Spanish
Country: Uruguay
Publisher: Host Publications
Pages: 296

Why This Book Should Win: Harry Morales has been championing Benedetti for years, and a victory could lead to more Benedetti books making their way into English; Host Publications deserves some extra attention; the cover has matches on it.

Today’s entry is from David Krinick, a former intern at Open Letter. He wrote this review last summer, and it’s a great overview of this book.

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.

The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories (recently published by the admirable Host Publications) offers a rare survey of the author’s short stories that spans over fifty decades of work. The stories collected act as vignettes that offer the reader brief perspectives of the many unremarkable lives of many of Uruguay’s urban citizens. In works such as “The Iriarte Family” Benedetti shows the life of a secretary’s febrile romanticizing of a female’s voice and the subsequent disintegration of his real life relationship. His character’s are repeatedly confronted with outcomes that contradict what they thought they originally desired.

Later stories reflect the author’s exile, evoking voices from the previous generation’s émigré writers such as Nabokov and Bunin. In “Completely Absent-Minded” an exiled politician’s dazed wayfaring across Europe brings him unexpectedly back to his home country, where he is quickly arrested. Benedetti’s voice shifts from the expository urban observer to a ruthless dissector of individual’s morals that passively accept their government’s yoke. Stories such as “Listening to Mozart,” “Nineteen” and “Answering Machine” expose cases of loyalty motivated by fear and self-preservation. From “Listening to Mozart”:

Sometimes, you too interrogate without conviction, and if you use electric shock, that’s precisely the reason why; because you don’t have any confidence in your own line of reasoning, because you know that no one is suddenly going to turn into a traitor just because you evoke the fatherland or curse at them.

Benedetti’s fearless writing chronicles a dark period in Latin American history, one where loved ones would disappear over night, never to be seen again. This collection, however, also resonates with the author’s desire to speak of love and our need for one another despite the estranged natures that society and politics cultivates in us. He explores the lines between public and private lives, illuminating our curious passions with a sense of irony, humor and gravity. The Rest Is Jungle affords a great introduction into the provocative career of one of Latin America’s most beloved authors.

10 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m sort of on vacation this week (and will literally be out of town on Thursday and Friday), so instead of writing a lot of new posts, I’m instead going to run a bunch of reviews that I’ve been storing up. First in the queue is David Krinick’s piece on Mario Benedetti’s The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories, which was translated from the Spanish by Harry Morales and will be out from Host Publications next week.

As David mentions, Benedetti is a big name in Latin American literature, but not all that well known among English-readers. That’s no fault of Morales’s—he’s been pushing to get Benedetti’s works published for quite some time now. Harry’s a great translator, and it’s great to see at least one of the books he was championing available to the masses.

David’s interning here this summer, packing catalogs, reading submissions, and setting up sales calls with bookstores. (Among other fun intern activities.)

Here’s the opening of his review:

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

“Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.”

Click here to read the full review, and click here to visit our complete review section.

10 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.

The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories (recently published by the admirable Host Publications) offers a rare survey of the author’s short stories that spans over fifty decades of work. The stories collected act as vignettes that offer the reader brief perspectives of the many unremarkable lives of many of Uruguay’s urban citizens. In works such as “The Iriarte Family” Benedetti shows the life of a secretary’s febrile romanticizing of a female’s voice and the subsequent disintegration of his real life relationship. His character’s are repeatedly confronted with outcomes that contradict what they thought they originally desired.

Later stories reflect the author’s exile, evoking voices from the previous generation’s émigré writers such as Nabokov and Bunin. In “Completely Absent-Minded” an exiled politician’s dazed wayfaring across Europe brings him unexpectedly back to his home country, where he is quickly arrested. Benedetti’s voice shifts from the expository urban observer to a ruthless dissector of individual’s morals that passively accept their government’s yoke. Stories such as “Listening to Mozart,” “Nineteen” and “Answering Machine” expose cases of loyalty motivated by fear and self-preservation. From “Listening to Mozart”:

Sometimes, you too interrogate without conviction, and if you use electric shock, that’s precisely the reason why; because you don’t have any confidence in your own line of reasoning, because you know that no one is suddenly going to turn into a traitor just because you evoke the fatherland or curse at them.

Benedetti’s fearless writing chronicles a dark period in Latin American history, one where loved ones would disappear over night, never to be seen again. This collection, however, also resonates with the author’s desire to speak of love and our need for one another despite the estranged natures that society and politics cultivates in us. He explores the lines between public and private lives, illuminating our curious passions with a sense of irony, humor and gravity. The Rest Is Jungle affords a great introduction into the provocative career of one of Latin America’s most beloved authors.

10 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Review Section is a piece by Daniela Hurezanu on Jacques Reda’s Europes, which was translated from the French by Aaron Prevots and published by Host Publications.

Daniela Hurezanu—a translator and author who wrote a great review for us of Memory Glyphs—makes this book sound incredibly interesting. There’s a bigger sample below, but I love this line from her review: “Reda’s style is an homage to the long sentence made of complex clauses with subordinates that intricately follow each other—a perfect mastery of grammar as logic-machine.”

Anyway, the one gripe I have is about Host Publication’s website (surprise!). I really like what Host has done over the past few years, and they have quietly become one of the most consistently interesting presses publishing today. Especially in terms of poetry in translation. But for whatever reason, it looks like their website hasn’t been updated in months. At least. In fact, unless I suddenly became incapable of reading and/or using the Internets, Europes isn’t even listed on Host’s site. Not that I can actually “search” the site, seeing as that there is no seach function . . . (Sorry, everyone at Host. This kind of thing is a pet peeve of mine. And trust me, you are light years ahead of clusterfuck sites like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s, which I’ve decided is either a joke or some devious experiment.)

Back to the subject at hand—Reda’s Europes and Daniela’s review:

After having published Return to Calm, Host Publications now offers us another book by Jacques Réda, also bilingual and also in Aaron Prevots’s translation—Europes. If in an “official” way Europes could be called a “travel essay,” the book’s fluid character undermines this characterization. Recording the fleeting instants of the narrator’s peregrinations, Europes includes essays on Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia and France—one or two essays followed by one or more poems for each country. The poems are “poèmes de circonstance,” that is, topical poems, in this case, poems on the countries described in the preceding essays, written in the tradition of Raymond Queneau: playful, silly, ironically rhymed.

Réda is what the French call a flâneur, a roamer who enjoys his anonymous status in a city’s labyrinth. When a flâneur crosses a border into a new territory he becomes a tourist. The difference between a flâneur and a tourist is that a tourist usually has a destination and certain goals—“Today is Paris Disneyland, tomorrow Auschwitz.” Réda is that rare species of tourist-flâneur; more a traveler than a tourist, he doesn’t entirely belong to the first category either, since as early as the eighteenth century it was common for travelers to have a project: that of letting themselves be formed by the experience of travel. Réda wants to be neither formed nor informed by his travels, he simply has “la bougeotte,” as the French would say, i.e., he can’t stay put.

Although Réda’s style is very literary, he is no snob, and he probably wouldn’t mind being called a tourist. With complete lack of snobbery, he declares that he loves supermarkets “for themselves,” a love only natural for someone who has grown up in poverty (after all, to despise richness is a luxury only the rich can afford). But this confession is immediately followed by an unexpected critical reflection: supermarkets are “counter-museums” or “museums of the instant,” Réda says, “whose instants are accessible, consumable, nearly straightaway consumed but indefinitely renewable . . .”

Click here for the full review.

10 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

After having published Return to Calm, Host Publications now offers us another book by Jacques Réda, also bilingual and also in Aaron Prevots’s translation—Europes. If in an “official” way Europes could be called a “travel essay,” the book’s fluid character undermines this characterization. Recording the fleeting instants of the narrator’s peregrinations, Europes includes essays on Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia and France—one or two essays followed by one or more poems for each country. The poems are “poèmes de circonstance,” that is, topical poems, in this case, poems on the countries described in the preceding essays, written in the tradition of Raymond Queneau: playful, silly, ironically rhymed.

Réda is what the French call a flâneur, a roamer who enjoys his anonymous status in a city’s labyrinth. When a flâneur crosses a border into a new territory he becomes a tourist. The difference between a flâneur and a tourist is that a tourist usually has a destination and certain goals—“Today is Paris Disneyland, tomorrow Auschwitz.” Réda is that rare species of tourist-flâneur; more a traveler than a tourist, he doesn’t entirely belong to the first category either, since as early as the eighteenth century it was common for travelers to have a project: that of letting themselves be formed by the experience of travel. Réda wants to be neither formed nor informed by his travels, he simply has “la bougeotte,” as the French would say, i.e., he can’t stay put.

Although Réda’s style is very literary, he is no snob, and he probably wouldn’t mind being called a tourist. With complete lack of snobbery, he declares that he loves supermarkets “for themselves,” a love only natural for someone who has grown up in poverty (after all, to despise richness is a luxury only the rich can afford). But this confession is immediately followed by an unexpected critical reflection: supermarkets are “counter-museums” or “museums of the instant,” Réda says, “whose instants are accessible, consumable, nearly straightaway consumed but indefinitely renewable . . .”

As a flâneur, Réda is an heir to Baudelaire. As a true Frenchman, he doesn’t simply record what he sees, as American writers usually do, but also analyzes it; yet I wouldn’t say that he writes in the tradition of, say, Sartre, or de Beauvoir (I am thinking of their writings on their travels to the States), whose critical impulse is to seize the unknown in the Other and freeze it through their aphoristic pronouncements. Neither a lover of exotic experiences—Réda prefers to stay in his European milieu rather than look for spicy otherness through some eco-tourist agency—nor a nostalgic ruminator for the good old days, Réda is a lover of trains—that is, of rhythmic movement and chance encounters—of temporary estrangement, and strangely familiar places. The only contemporary writer I can think of who belongs to the same family is John Taylor, an American who lives in France, whose Some Sort of Joy has recently come out in a French translation.

Réda’s style is an homage to the long sentence made of complex clauses with subordinates that intricately follow each other—a perfect mastery of grammar as a logic-machine. At the end of the sentence you experience the climactic joy of a detective who has discovered the criminal. The long, complex sentence is, alas, an endangered species, at least in this country, where “economy” of style or so-called “minimalism” is synonymous with “good writing,” when in fact it is often simply laziness of thinking.

Reading Réda, the bilingual reader is also struck by something else: Réda is a very ironic writer, but you have to read him in French in order to realize that. This is not because Prevots’s translation is not good enough—it is a perfectly good translation—but because what we call irony is different in every language. The irony of French writers is more artificial than that of their American counterparts because, as in Réda’s case, it represents the tone of a persona or a mask the author has put on, and the authorial masks we use are generally grounded in voices that have preceded us. In other words: our irony is never entirely “authentic”—rather it is a mimesis of the irony of other authors that have written in our language, and the reader can experience that irony because he can recognize the tone in his cultural repertoire. Contemporary American writers practice an irony that is more colloquial and more nihilistic in the sense that the authorial voice situates itself somewhere above good and evil, and is rarely self-ironic. Réda is self-ironic, which, of course, makes him funny.

The last piece in the book, “A Paris Crossing” includes some metatextual commentary on the story’s source, namely the fact that it had been initially commissioned by a so-called geographic tourism magazine, which, having asked for a piece in ten thousand characters, ends up rejecting it because it failed to comply with the magazine’s editorial policy. We find this out both in the first paragraph and in a footnote at the end of the story. In the first paragraph, Réda lets the reader know that the magazine suggested to him to “cross Paris in ten thousand characters,” and he compares this editorial practice with the ethos of athletic competitiveness, adding: “Moreover, I’ve just squandered three or four hundred characters complaining about my fate.” I am the kind of reader who gets a lot of pleasure out of these disclosures, all the more so when I imagine the editor of said tourism magazine reading the piece that makes fun his policies.

I hate to sound didactic, but this a book that anyone who teaches French culture and literature should have.

....
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