24 April 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Final entry today in the Why This Book Should Win series is from BTBA judge and curator of “Reader-at-Large,” Tara Cheesman.



Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

One of the characters in Return to the Dark Valley is a “crazy and eccentric Argentinian,” a possible sociopath, who says he is the bastard son of Pope Francis and has renamed himself Tertullian, after the father of Latin Christianity. While he narrates sections of the book, he is only a supporting actor in Santiago Gamboa’s complicated plot, a masterpiece of manipulation which unfolds over four hundred and sixty-one pages. Tertullian is one of five different narrators, each with his or her own distinctive voice and history, who provide the many stories which come together to form what we gradually realize is, when distilled down to its essential form, a thriller. Albeit a wonderfully literary one.

At its center is the man known affectionately as “the Consul” who has travelled to Spain at the request of Juana, the woman with whom he has an intimate, yet undefined, relationship. (Both characters appear in an earlier novel by the same author). While waiting for Juana in Madrid he meets another young woman, Manuela, who in an act very like the Catholic sacrament of confession, reveals to him her story. Eventually Tertullian will add his voice to this fragmented tale, as will a priest turned armed militant. And the 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud—whose name came up in more than one book eligible for this year’s prize—also plays a part, in the form of meditations kept by the Consul in a notebook. Rimbaud’s biography is spread across the novel and forms its connective tissue.

It seems an unlikely combination. Until you realize they are all expatriates, fleeing or having fled violence at home. Brought together, by way of tenuous connections and a shared human condition, to help Manuela make peace with her own violent past.

Return to the Dark Valley is as close to being a flawless book as anything I’ve ever read. That’s a bold statement, I know—but to find a book that is well made, so solid in its construction, is rare. Gamboa is a writer who has complete control over his medium. Every sentence, nuance and emotional beat carries weight. He’s created characters who are substantial—with identifiable mannerisms, voices, and vocal rhythms. The pacing is absolutely perfect. The violence, and there is more than a little violence, is visceral but not overdone (similar to how it is used in the movie Sicario). The prose is rich, but restrained. Howard Curtis’ translation is a pleasure to read. Below is a quote chosen at random from the many passages I marked while I was reading, just because it felt both beautiful and real.

Waiting, waiting . . .

The day is marked out with floating buoys you have to make an effort to reach: lunch, dinner, sleep, breakfast. Anyone who waits—this text is full of unbearable waits—feels the passing of time and its speed in a physical way. It is slow and laborious.

I don’t know who felt the weight of this stillness most, Manuela or me; what is certain is that by always being in the house—except for my brief morning excursion for provisions, which Manuela denied herself for fear that someone might recognize her—each of us ended up marking our territory, and she practically imprisoned herself in her room.

Challenging. Haunting. Readable. Written by an author and craftsman of undeniable skill, this is a book that expands or contracts in scope depending on its reader. That kind of adaptability and universality in an author—combined with such skillful and creative storytelling—should be celebrated. Which is why I believe Return to the Dark Valley should win.

5 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Jeremy Garber, events coordinator at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.



Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 36%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 4%

Santiago Gamboa’s Night Prayers (Europa Editions) is a thrilling work of fiction. The Colombian writer’s newest novel (only the second of his works to be translated into English, after Necropolis) is layered with international tension and literary allusions. With a globetrotting plot centered upon crime and sibling loyalty, Night Prayers is told from the perspective of three distinct voices (each a main character). Sex, drugs, and politics figure prominently into Gamboa’s story, charging it with nefarious elements that won’t be unfamiliar to readers of Roberto Bolaño.

Perhaps one of the more conventional/less experimental books on this year’s longlist, Night Prayers, nevertheless, stands out boldly as an accomplished work of narrative storytelling. With an electrifying, well-paced plot, Gamboa’s novel engages and entertains like the very best of crime fiction, yet reflects and philosophizes like a more measured literary work. Drawing on themes of brotherly/sisterly fealty, violence, corruption, poverty, and the blurry lines between right and wrong, vice and virtue, Night Prayers is far more than a mere propulsive page-turner of transnational intrigue.

With considerable drama and distinctly drawn characters, Night Prayers hums at the peripheries of an illicit world. Translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis, Santiago Gamboa’s novel is a worthwhile entrant on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist.

18 February 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last week, the tenth version of the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute took place in Asheville, NC, at a resort straight out of The Shining.

I know! You should’ve seen the main lobby with it’s 40’ ceilings, giant fireplaces, and hidden passages. It was like something out of Hogwarts. (Actually, I have no idea if that’s true. I’m still pretty clueless when it comes to Harry Potter.)

For anyone not in the business, Winter Institute started ten years ago as a way of having the bookseller educational programs—which usually take place just before the start of BookExpo America—at a different time and place, one where it was basically all booksellers resorted off in such a way that they could share relevant information about the business of bookselling without having the Sweet Potato Queen thrusting books at you non-stop. (Not to pick on this particular book, but if you’ve been to BEA, you know that it’s filthy with over-the-top attempts to get the attention of booksellers and reviewers. Just check out the Ellora’s Cave stand and their calendar stud muffins.)

Over the past decade, Winter Institute has evolved, and is heavily underwritten by publishing houses. But even so, it’s much more classy and information-focused, rather than a buzz-producing free-for-all. For example, if a publisher sponsors Winter Institute at the mid-level (which is thousands of dollars), they get to bring two employees and spend four total hours “speed dating” with booksellers (Winter Institute is HOT), pitching a handful of books and making new connections. There are other sponsorship benefits, and most publishers arrange dinners with key stores, but nevertheless, it’s all pretty subdued and really focused on relationships and business practices.

You’ll be able to hear a lot more about this on the podcast that’s going up soon, and which features a handful of booksellers, publishers, and Naja Marie Aidt.

For years I’ve been trying to get to Winter Institute, and now that I finally made it, I’m going to be there every year going forward. It’s the best way to learn about new stores, reconnect with booksellers you don’t get to see that often, and party with other book people. Everyone working in this oftentimes thankless business needs a few days like this.

One of my favorite moments of Winter Institute was going to the special Consortium dinner with my former boss—Sarah Goddin of Quail Ridge Books! I had no idea she was going to be there, and Consortium had no idea that we had worked together, so it was a special sort of random reunion.

Since I love North Carolina (the far superior Carolina) so much, I spent a couple days after Winter Institute driving over to Raleigh-Durham, trying to find the apartment complex I lived in back in 1999 (I failed), meeting up with John Darnielle to talk about Mercè Rodoreda and book tours, and checking out all of the great bookstores. Although The Regulator seems to have shrunk quite a bit since the time I lived there (which, granted, was forever ago), the Triangle still has some incredible independent bookstores. Flyleaf in Chapel Hill is gorgeous and so well stocked (and is a store I wouldn’t have visited had I not met the very charming Travis at breakfast during Winter Institute) and over at Quail Ridge, the “International Literature” section I helped set up before Y2K didn’t do shit is still there, bigger and more international than ever.

I have no grand point to make with this intro . . . except maybe that it was rejuvenating. I would love to be back in Carolina, where there are great bookstores and breweries (sorry, Rochester, but you just can’t compete), and where I didn’t have to wear a winter jacket (it is -60 here right now, I think). But beyond the natural beauty and general coolness of Carolina, there’s that special internal joy that comes from talking with booksellers like Mark Haber and Jeremy Ellis and Robert Sindelar and Stephen Sparks and Brad Johnson and Jeremy Solomons and Paul Yamazaki and Rick Simonson and Sarah Goddin and everyone else that I talked with, but can’t remember right now.

Despite all the hardships it faces in our tech-obsessed world, bookselling is alive and well, and still populated by that special subset of book lovers who truly help make this whole book culture thing work.

The Knight and His Shadow by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the French by Alan Furness (Michigan State University Press)

Given that MSU’s men’s basketball team kicked the living shit out of Michigan last night, I have to take a minute to say GO SPARTANS! and give a shout out to my alma mater, and to say that I will savor every minute of a Kentucky loss. I have friends who love Kentucky in that way that you do when your family tree is a straight line and teeth are considered an optional accessory (sorry, sorry), and I’d be happy for them if Kent— Screw that. That’s a total lie. I can’t stand Calipari and his dirty recruiting and am sick to death of Dickie V, who has never held a skeptical position in his life and who has obviously spent way too many hours researching thesauri for new ways to say “Calipari and what he’s done with this program is nothing short of spectacular! He’s a diaper dandy winner, baby!” Please, ESPN, retire him. Let him write a weekly column from Florida where he can hang out with all his shady sports friends and verbally fellate all the “blue blood” teams that he loves.

In terms of this book, this is the only work of fiction from Senegal listed in our Translation Database. I know there are countries (like Chad, just, you know, as an example) that have zero titles available in translation, but it’s still crazy to think that, if you want to read some recent Senegalese literature, you have exactly one choice.

On the upside, this sounds spectacular. It includes a character who is hired to “sit before an open door and tell stories into an uncertain darkness, unable to see the person to whom she speaks.” Plus, it’s great to see MSU Press getting into the translation game. The only thing that could be better is if MSU interrupts Kentucky’s “Pursuit of Perfection” in the NCAA tournament. Dickie V would never recover . . .

Flesh-Coloured Dominos by Zigmunds Skujins, translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis (Arcadia)

Look, it’s Open Letter editor Kaija Straumanis’s second full-length Latvian translation to be published! With a country of this size (3 million speakers worldwide?), it’s crucial that someone become a spokesperson/go-to translator who can act as a cultural conduit, or literary ambassador. Without a Kaija, Latvian literature would be even less well-known . . . And someone like Skujins, who is considered one of the top Latvian writers of the twentieth century, would remain unknown outside of this relatively small group of readers. Every country needs a few Kaijas.

Speaking of, here’s a picture of her while translating this book.



Lies, First Person by Gail Hareven, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Open Letter)

2015 is going to be a huge year for Open Letter in terms of sales and publicity. I can easily see a handful of our titles on next year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist (Georgi Gospodinov, Naja Marie Aidt, Andrés Neuman, Gail Hareven), and it all starts here, with this book that is part-revenge fantasy, part-literary game. The follow up to the BTBA winning The Confessions of Noa Weber (also translated by Dalya Bilu, and sadly out of print from Melville House), Lies, First Person is about a female writer whose uncle molested her younger sister while writing his much-reviled book Hitler, First Person. Decades later, the uncle is making the rounds, apologizing for the upset his book cause, but Elinor isn’t ready to forgive anyone . . . Instead she decides to take matters into her own hands and get the ultimate revenge for what he did to her sister. Hareven complicates this storyline by exploring the gap between truth and lies in fiction, transforming a simple tale of abuse and vengeance into something that’s emotionally powerful and intellectually stunning.

No one writes with the warmth and honest of Hareven. She may well be the first female writer to claim the BTBA twice.

Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre, translated from the French by Howard Curtis (New Vessel Press)

Since we just posted a great review of this by Peter Biello, I’m just going to quote from there:

In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying side that reflects, more than anything else, the emotional state of the storyteller, an unnamed narrator still reeling from his divorce many years ago. . . . The immersive power of the novel comes from the narrator’s voice. He begins each paragraph somewhere, then wanders somewhere else, jumping idea to idea, often without starting new sentences. The reader must slow down to figure out whether he’s integrating dialogue into his prose or recalling something someone once said or mocking someone. But in forcing us to slow down, the author has invited us to occupy the narrator’s mind perhaps more intimately than we would otherwise.

Fabre’s The Waitress Was New, which Archipelago brought out a few years ago, is brilliant, and I’m sure that this new novel is as well.

Adventures in Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher, translated from the Romanian by Michael Henry Heim (New Directions)

On its own, this sounds like a curious, strange book to read. According to the ND copy, Blecher “paints the crises of ‘irreality’ the plagued him in his youth: eerie unsettling mirages wherein he would glimpse future events.” Structured through a sort of dream-logic, this book probably isn’t for everyone, but will inspire some hard core fans.

Personally, I’m excited to read it because it’s a Michael Henry Heim translation. My love of MHH is unwavering (if you haven’t already, you should read The Man Between), and I know for certain that if he chose to work on this, it’s definitely interesting and worth reading. At the same time, the idea of reading the book Mike was working on when he passed away makes me sad . . . I know there are dozens of books he did that I have yet to read, but still, there’s something about the “final” one that makes me just miss him.

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (McSweeney’s Books)

New Zambra! I may not have been the biggest fan of Ways of Going Home, but given the greatness of The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai, I will always and forever read every new book Zambra writes. This is his first story collection, and features eleven stories (or, according to McSweeney’s, “eleven brief novels,” which is really brilliant marketing speak, since stories don’t sell) that are archived in a folder labeled, “My Documents.”

Zambra is always a fun read, and he really is at his best in the short form, so this has a lot of promise. (It’s books like this that make me wish I only taught books I’ve already read, and thus would have more time for fun reading . . .)

The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Melville House)

When she spoke to my class last spring, Karen Emmerich talked a bit about this book, in particular about the role politics play in this novel and in Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou. Not that the two books are similar, but both involve Greek political things that probably need to be explained to American readers.

The Scapegoat is about a murdered American journalist, a man who confessed to the crime under torture, and a young boy who sets off to find the truth. The bit about this that most caught my attention is that it’s based on the real story of CBS reporter James Polk, the namesake of the Polk Awards.

Also, as with Michael Henry Heim, I’m always interested in projects that Karen decides to translate. Which makes me want to run a poll/write an article about what it takes to become one of those sorts of translators (whose name signals true quality and can get me to pick up anything), and who exactly falls into this grouping . . . hmm . . .

Me, Margarita by Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili, translated from the Georgian by Libby Heighway (Dalkey Archive)

Out of all the Georgian books Dalkey has published in their series, this is the one that I’m most interested in reading. Mostly because of this blurb:

“An unmatched achievement that simultaneously fascinates and alienates. What does cynicism taste like? And what color is disillusion? Me, Margarita is powder blue and tastes refreshingly bittersweet.“—Emil Fadel, octopus-magazin

I’ll buy a side of disillusioned cynicism for $15.95.

16 February 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Peter Biello on Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre, translated by Howard Curtis and out from New Vessel Press.

Here’s the beginning of Peter’s review:

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying side that reflects, more than anything else, the emotional state of the storyteller, an unnamed narrator still reeling from his divorce many years ago.

The novel begins as the narrator runs into an old friend, Jean, whose life has similarly stalled. With a wink and a nod they resume the friendship that they had lost years ago. We’re also introduced to Marco, or Marc-André, who, along with Jean, becomes the third member of this sad band of rapidly-aging, aimless men. As the novel unfolds, we learn about the narrator’s divorce from Anaïs, and the painful estrangement from his son, Benjamin.

Early in the novel, we learn the great extent to which the narrator’s mind torments him. “Since my separation, I haven’t had a real love affair,” the narrator tells us. “I don’t have the strength for it anymore, I kept telling myself. But why would I need strength? How the time passes . . . Quite often, my thinking stops there, and I try to sleep immediately afterwards, because I really don’t know what’s waiting for me if I keep thinking.” What little hope remains in his heart he’s found in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said there are no second acts in American life. “There are no second acts,” the narrator says. “But I still believe there are, from time to time.”

For the rest of the review, go here.

16 February 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying side that reflects, more than anything else, the emotional state of the storyteller, an unnamed narrator still reeling from his divorce many years ago.

The novel begins as the narrator runs into an old friend, Jean, whose life has similarly stalled. With a wink and a nod they resume the friendship that they had lost years ago. We’re also introduced to Marco, or Marc-André, who, along with Jean, becomes the third member of this sad band of rapidly-aging, aimless men. As the novel unfolds, we learn about the narrator’s divorce from Anaïs, and the painful estrangement from his son, Benjamin.

Early in the novel, we learn the great extent to which the narrator’s mind torments him. “Since my separation, I haven’t had a real love affair,” the narrator tells us. “I don’t have the strength for it anymore, I kept telling myself. But why would I need strength? How the time passes . . . Quite often, my thinking stops there, and I try to sleep immediately afterwards, because I really don’t know what’s waiting for me if I keep thinking.” What little hope remains in his heart he’s found in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said there are no second acts in American life. “There are no second acts,” the narrator says. “But I still believe there are, from time to time.”

He finds his second act in Marie, a woman he meets through an online dating website. When she begins treatment for breast cancer, the narrator finds himself once again falling in love and discovering that, despite what he has told himself, he does have the strength for another love affair—one that could last long enough to be considered a “second act.”

The immersive power of the novel comes from the narrator’s voice. He begins each paragraph somewhere, then wanders somewhere else, jumping idea to idea, often without starting new sentences. The reader must slow down to figure out whether he’s integrating dialogue into his prose or recalling something someone once said or mocking someone. But in forcing us to slow down, the author has invited us to occupy the narrator’s mind perhaps more intimately than we would otherwise.

By the end, we’re left feeling good about the narrator’s “second act,” though we realize that, on some level, most of the man’s life has gone by, much of it spent in some state of misery or confusion. It’s easy to see how many people—men, of course, but women, too—can relate to guys like this narrator. After all, he does say, with his touch of dry humor, “there are only a few million of us, I think.”

2 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Santiago Gamboa’s Necropolis, which won the La Otra Orilla Literary Award in 2009, is frustratingly good, inventive, and obsessed with story telling. The premise is simple: An author much like Santiago Gamboa himself, is invited to participate in a literary conference about biography—one that will also be attended by a strange array of guests, including a porn star and an ex-con turned evangelical pastor—that takes place in a besieged Jerusalem. During the conference, the ex-con evangelical—who tells one of the most captivating stories in the book—is found dead of an apparent suicide. Maybe.

What’s interesting/frustrating about this book is that that plot point takes place on page 165, then is interrupted, textually at least, for almost 200 pages as other participants in the conference tell their stories, each of which is intriguing in its own right, but which, for a reader of traditional, conventional books obsessed with pacing, plot points, and building climaxes, must be crazy-making. (But those sorts of readers don’t really read these sorts of books, do they?)

I read this way back in the fall and meant to write up a review back then when all the connections between the various stories in the novel—which, in terms of their themes, ideas, and narrative styles, overlap and play off one another in a beguiling fashion—were still fresh in my mind. Now, I’m just left with the memory that, in contrast to say The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron, this novel is much more circular in its construction, looping back on itself in a way informed by the best of twentieth-century literature.

A lot of people reading this blog probably feel the same way, but god damn is it a good time for Spanish-language literature. Vila-Matas. Gamboa. Neuman. Labbé. Marias. Chejfec. Prieto. Valenzuela. Dozens of writers I can’t think of.

25 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

Although this is dated June 6th, I think the final parts of this interview were posted today . . .

In support of Reading the World, Dan Wickett of Emerging Writers Network (and Dzanc Books) hosted an e-round table discussion with four translators: Howard Curtis, Katherine Silver, Paul Olchvary, and Richard Jeffrey Newman.

It’s a pretty interesting discussion, especially since the four usually have different takes on each of the issues. Makes things lively . . .

....
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

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I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

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Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

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Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

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The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

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Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

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The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

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