6 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Gwen Dawson, founder of Literary License. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Algeria, Other Press)

This year’s longlist is very strong, but I have no problem making the claim that The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud deserves to be at the head of the list. No other book on this longlist will force you to reexamine your reading of one of the Western world’s most studied novels like Daoud’s novel will. On top of that, this novel will expose your unconscious reading bias and, if you’re like me, make you feel pretty guilty in the process. If I were an English professor, The Meursault Investigation would go on my syllabus next semester.

In this novel, Daoud takes on Albert Camus’s The Stranger (sometimes translated as The Other or The Outsider) and dares to tell the other side of the story. For those few of you who escaped having The Stranger as assigned reading in school, it is widely regarded as the classic existential (or, some say, absurdist) novel. Camus wrote it in French and first published it in 1942. To summarize, in the first half of the novel, the protagonist Meursault ends up shooting an “Arab” on a hot sunny beach out of either boredom/ennui or heatstroke (the critics disagree) and, in the second half, he languishes in his jail cell waiting for death while questioning the meaning of life. Meursault eventually concludes, “Nothing, nothing mattered . . .” The story is told in the first person in unadorned, almost acetic, prose.

Daoud comes at this same story from a different angle. His protagonist Harun is the surviving brother of Musa, the “Arab” murdered by Meursault in Camus’s novel. In Harun’s world, The Stranger is a kind of memoir by Meursault, describing his crime and its aftermath. The Meursault Investigation is Harun’s first-person response to Meursault’s narrative, albeit fifty years after the crime. For Harun, Meursault murders Musa first by calling him what he is not (Arab), second, by refusing to call him what he is (Musa), and third, by shooting him five times. All three are inexcusable, and as readers of The Stranger, most of us were complicit in the first two murders, only recognizing the five bullets as wrong.

Unlike many readers of The Stranger, Harun refuses to accept the label of “Arab” for his brother:

Arab. I never felt Arab, you know. Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man’s eyes. In our neighborhood, in our world, we were Muslims, we had given names, faces, and habits. Period. The others were “the strangers,” the roumis God brought here to put us to the test . . .


Meursault also neglects to give Musa a name or even a body. Without a body, there’s “a weird funeral” and an “empty grave,” and, understandably, Harun is angry about this:

Just think, we’re talking about one of the most-read books in the world. My brother might have been famous if your author had merely deigned to give him a name. H’med or Kaddour or Hammou, just a name, damn it! . . . But no, he didn’t name him, because if he had, my brother would have caused the murderer a problem with his conscience: You can’t easily kill a man when he has a given name.


The brilliance of Daoud’s work here is that many of his readers will be recognizing these gaps in the classic story for the first time. When I read The Stranger in ninth grade (I think), all of the focus was on Meursault’s motivations in shooting “the Arab” and his resulting struggle to define the meaning of his life. I don’t recall thinking much about the Arab whose death animates Meursault’s famous philosophizing. This is where the guilt comes in. Why didn’t we think about the murdered man and his family when we read The Stranger? And when we didn’t, why weren’t we taught that we should?

I don’t have space here to unpack all the masterful ways in which Daoud engages with Camus’s novel except to say that the resonances are multilayered and reward close reading. One point of contrast, however, is notable. Both novels were written originally in French, but where Camus writes with spare efficiency, Daoud employs a lush, descriptive language. John Cullen’s translation of Daoud captures the warmth and sensuousness of the language as well as Harun’s conversational tone. The stark difference in linguistic style between the novels highlights the different worlds inhabited by these two protagonists, even though they walk on the same streets.

The Meursault Investigation is uncomfortably thought-provoking in the best way. It deserves to be read and studied alongside its classic companion. Even with only a passing familiarity with Camus’s The Stranger, Daoud’s novel is a rewarding read. The Meursault Investigation’s brilliance, however, becomes most obvious when read right after reading (or rereading) Camus’s classic. It is then that its complex interactions with the classic are best appreciated.

9 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Every May, 20,000 or so publishing professionals gather at BookExpo America to a) try and create buzz for their fall books, b) court booksellers and librarians, c) attend panels of minimal import, and d) bitch and moan. Mostly it’s just d, to be honest.

Publishing people love to complain about everything. The Javitz Center sucks. (This is a fact! Stupid glass warehouse. Looks like something from Cleveland.) The BEA is too expensive. No booksellers or critics come anymore. People only want free books. Books don’t sell. Stupid Grumpy Cat is clogging up the aisles. A coffee costs $17. This fair is loaded with crap thanks to you Random Harper House and the Algonquins of mediocrity. Why more Mitch Albom? I thought he was in heaven? Writing us letters? It’ll only be more unbearable in Chicago. And on the weekend they’re actually letting in regular readers. This is the worst.

It’s kind of great! Four days of being around my people, all rant-receptive, all cloaking their belief in the power of books behind a shell of unremitting misery . . . So good! I need this in my life at least once a year—it helps me feel human.

The best post-BEA storyline to me was about the Big Publisher reaction to “BookCon,” the weekend part of the show when readers flood the aisles searching for John Green and buying books (although maybe not the books by the presses whose books I usually buy). Here’s the initial reaction, as reported in Publishers Weekly:

Not only are many New York City-based publishers concerned about staffing for next year’s BookCon, they’re also worried that the change in venue [Ed. Note: BEA is in Chicago next summer] will mark a return to the show’s first year, when attendance was lower and the event itself was more chaotic.

Then, a week later, also in Publishers Weekly:

Heather Fain, senior v-p and director of marketing strategy at Hachette Book Group, said she’s looking forward to meeting readers from other parts of the country: “Readers don’t just live in New York. If Reed puts together the programming with big names, I think they could get a crowd to come out in any major market. And I like the idea of interacting with readers outside the Tristate Area.”

Wait, there are readers outside of New York City? I CALL BULLSHIT. I’ve said it a million times, but publishers are amazingly good at distancing themselves from their readers. Just wait—next May there will be a slew of articles about how crappy Chicago BookCon is going to be, then in June, publishers will be all “we sold a lot of books! It was great! But next year when it’s in Los Angeles . . . Well, I’m just not sure . . .”

When publishers finally realize that the main reason they exist is thanks to the passion of readers willing to pay money to come to an awful part of NYC just to meet publishers, there will be a sea change in this show. Granted, there won’t be swarms of tween girls bum rushing the Coach House booth in search of conceptual poetry, but still. I see this in my daughter who, to this day (literally), talks about how excited she was to meet Jón Gnarr and how The Indian is her favorite book. I told her about BEA and to her it sounded like paradise. Not for free stuff, but to see so many books and so many cool people (since cool people are people who work with books) in one place at one time. To her, it was like ComicCon but with fewer costumes.

Steve Rosato, who runs BEA, told me that NY ComicCon—which I am going to go to—draws TEN TIMES as many attendees as BookCon/BEA. This is insane to me. 150,000 people are at NYCC at any moment in time. People who paid $50 to get into a show to buy more stuff. We all love superhero movies more than experimental prose, but still, the great benefit of the various book festivals around the country—the LA Times Festival of Books, Printers Row, Miami Book Fair, now BookCon—is that there’s an opportunity to interact with these people. Instead of only interacting with fellow publishing people drowning their misery with alcohol and hate. (Although alcohol and hate are both wonderful.)

Anyway, my favorite BEA moment? Walking the aisles and finding this at the Overdrive Booth (Overdrive being a service working with libraries to allow patrons to check out audiobooks and ebooks—it’s my favorite app):

Yep, that’s an Open Letter book right next to Dan Brown, and under Gone Girl and Wimpy Kid. We made it!

Not only was Street of Thieves on this oft-repeating mosaic of major works, but they used it as the feature book (along with The Girl on the Train, the number one best-selling book in the country) on this background image inside their booth:

I’ve always dreamt of seeing someone randomly reading one of our books on the subway, but although that hasn’t happened, this is a good runner-up dream.

A Brief History of Portable Literature and The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Tom Bunstead and Anne McLean (New Directions)

Vila-Matas is one of my favorites—especially Montano’s Malady—for all the formal games he plays with point of view and narrative, which he uses to upend your expectations time and again, shifting his books from half-essays into strange beasts that aren’t what we usually think of as “novels.” This is important and wonderful. And a book about a secret society of people called “the Shandies,” obsessed with “portable literature”? Yes, all the yes.

By the way, next week, Tom and I will be recording our 100th episode of the Three Percent Podcast. We’re going to make this a “listener appreciation” podcast in which we answer any and all questions from you about publishing, sports, books, whatever. Just send them to threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Other Press)

To be honest, I’m not actually all that interested in this book. I’m sure it’s fine and competent and will reach a very wide audience (especially after the Kakutani NY Times review), all of which is great for Other Press and the book. (The set-up alone—a retelling of The Stranger from the perspective of the Arab Meursault kills—guarantees this a huge book club audience.) A lot of people I respect really like this, but I can’t imagine it blowing my mind. Nevertheless, a ton of people will be talking about this, and I’m sure that conversation will be interesting to thousands of readers.

I have to say, the older I get, the less I feel like reading books that I should read in favor of ones I want to. When I moved recently, I was reorganizing my bookshelves and kept having the thought that I was saving books that I would never possibly get to before I die. Ever. It’s an anxiety-making idea, in part because of the death aspect, but also because it makes me question why I choose to read the books I do. I have no good answer to this, but I’m pretty sure The Meursault Investigation won’t be one of the 100 titles that makes the cut for 2015. Sorry.

That said, Jeff Waxman from Other Press—and all their other staff members—is a great guy doing a lot of amazing things, especially in terms of connecting small presses with booksellers. (Like at the upcoming Small Press Night at Green Apple Books in San Francisco.) Jeff is my favorite thing about Other Press. That and the Simon Critchley book they’re bringing out later this year.

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (New Directions)

It’s really too bad that FOX has the rights to the Women’s World Cup. Their soccer coverage is fine, but it just feels so buried seeking the games out on FOX Sports 1. Granted, ESPN aired most of last year’s World Cup, but everyone has ESPN. That’s like basic cable.

I was really surprised that last night’s USA-Australia game wasn’t on FOX proper. It was a perfect opportunity for FOX to remind the nation that FOX Sports 1 still exists, and to get a ton of people hooked into this competition. Instead they aired a rerun of So You Think You Can Dance. FOX sucks.

Bringing together my two great loves—translation and sports—here’s a picture of Peter Cole (translator of Yoel Hoffmann’s Moods) giving a talk in front of the Men in Blazers mug that George Carroll sent me.



Disagreeable Tales by Léon Bloy, translated from the French by Erik Butler (Wakefield Press)

The USPS debuted a new spring/summer commercial that I saw during the NBA Finals, and which brought up a lot of questions.

This commercial opens with the following rhetorical question: “What do you think of when you think of the United States Postal Service? . . . . . . Exactly.”

Exactly what??? The things that come to mind when I think of the USPS are, in descending order, 1) the phrase “going postal,” and 2) nothing. It’s like thinking about electricity or garbage collection—it’s just something that’s there and works most of the time.

I feel like the commercial should go on in this way, “You know what we here at the USPS are good at? Occasionally delivering Amazon orders. We’re better than imaginary drones at that! The Postal Service. Sounds like a band name. Hell, next time you hear this commercial think of that. USPS. Band. Name.”

I’m sure that FOX has this commercial on endless loop.

Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated from the Spanish by John King (FSG)

This book sounds like such an old man book—I love it!

In the past, culture was a kind of vital consciousness that constantly rejuvenated and revivified everyday reality. Now it is largely a mechanism of distraction and entertainment. [. . .] Vargas Llosa traces a decline whose ill effects have only just begun to be felt. He mourns, in particular, the figure of the intellectual: for most of the twentieth century, men and women of letters drove political, aesthetic, and moral conversations; today they have all but disappeared from public debate.

I think I’m going to read this over the weekend and spend hours yelling at my books to get off my lawn.

The One Before by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Roanne Kantor (Open Letter)

This is our fourth Saer book—with another coming next summer!—and the first to be translated by Roanne Kantor. (Steve Dolph has done the other three, and he’s amazing.) Roanne won the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation in 2009 for this book, which is how she ended up working on it for us.

Speaking of Susan Sontag, her biographer, Ben Moser, won the Internet recently for his photo of his six-year-old niece flipping out in the White House. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but if not, here’s a link. I get overly excited when people I know become über-famous for something that’s not what they always do. Now, hopefully 1/1,000,000 of the people who saw that photo will buy a book that Ben has translated, edited, or written.

A Perfect Crime by A Yi, translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood (Oneworld)

So, China was the Global Market Focus country at BEA this year, which was interesting. I only attended a couple of the main events, but saw their various displays, which took up a sizable portion of the exhibition floor.

The New Yorker ran an interesting piece about China and BEA, which includes a depressing story about A Perfect Crime:

Even the Chinese delegation’s most promising soft-power weapons, the twenty-four authors, had trouble drawing crowds. On Friday, a Chinese newspaper lamented the lack of attendees at the on-site book signings. “Where Did the Readers Go?” read the headline. According to the article, during one signing featuring the crime novelist A Yi, the author grabbed a book and tried to push it on a middle-aged American man as he walked by. A Yi soon returned, dejected. “You’d better stop,” said another author, Su Tong, jokingly patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll humiliate our country.” The article went viral in China, before being deleted. (ChinaFile has a translation here.) The rest of the planned book signings were cancelled as a result.

This piece also ends with an odd quote from our favorite author to troll, Jonathan Franzen, which, obviously I’m going to quote:

When I approached Franzen at the PEN rally, he told me that, after visiting China, he’d come to understand the case for censorship. “China has known so much misery, so much social instability in the last century, that there’s this deep cultural fear of it that cuts substantially across political lines,” he said. “From the point of view of the Chinese government, trying to maintain social stability, there are reasons for censorship. And that’s a point of view that has a right to be heard, in the same way that the writers we were supporting here have a right to be heard.”

Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis (Feminist Press)

Violette Leduc was one of the coolest authors ever, and it’s so good that this is finally available in its unedited version.

Also, Feminist Press rocks and you should really listen to our recent podcast in which Feminist Press editor Julia Berner-Tobin joined us to talk about Virginie Despentes’s Apocalypse Baby.

A History of Money by Alan Pauls, translated from the Spanish by Ellie Robins (Melville House)

I couldn’t get into the Pauls book that Harvill brought out a few years ago, but he’s always talked about as one of the great contemporary Latin American writers, so I’m willing to give this one a chance.

Unfortunately, Melville House doesn’t send us review copies, so I went ahead and ordered this on Amazon.

Urgency and Patience by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin (Dalkey Archive)

This looks really interesting: a short set of essays about the art of writing from the author of The Bathroom and Television. When he’s on, Toussaint is spectacular, and it makes me curious to see what his nonfiction is like. Also, this book is 57 pages long with a gigantic font size, so it’s one that I can definitely finish . . .

There are bunch of books I’d like to include, but don’t have the time/energy for. (In other words, I have no obvious jokes for these titles.) So here’s a short list of other things coming out in June that are worth checking out.

Someone’s Trying to Find You by Marc Auge, translated from the French by Chris Turner (Seagull Books)

On Wing by Róbert Gál, translated from the Slovak by Mark Kanak (Dalkey Archive)

The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum)

The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston (Arcadia)

The Body Where I Was Born Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by J.T. Lichtenstein (Seven Stories Press)

Rambling Jack Micheal Ó Conghaile, translated from the Irish by Katherine Duffy (Dalkey Archive)

Like a New Sun: New Indigenous Mexican Poetry”: (Phoneme Books)

6 September 13 | Monica Carter | Comments

Monica Carter, one of the ten judges for the Best Translated Book Awards and curator of Salonica, gives her thoughts on some of the books she’s read so far this year.

School is back in swing, a war with Syria looms and the new iPhone 5s is about to take over the world. Yet, let’s not forget the simple joys in life. Like books. More specifically, books in translation. Even more specifically than that, this year’s books in translation. As we begin the slow rev to the Best Translated Book Awards short list, the judges have decided to voice their comments, appraisals, frustrations, and declarations of love for the fiction entries along the way. As a judge, I can attest to the fact that even though I know a book may not be the strongest contender for the long or short list, I still can fall madly, deeply and begrudgingly in intellectual lust with it.

This brings me to my impressions of a few of the entries I’ve read so far that have made me think, intrigued me or challenged me to understand why the novel is so compelling even though the main character thoroughly disgusts me. The first novel I want to recommend is Marc Auge’s No Fixed Abode: Ethnofiction.

Ethnofiction blends truth and fiction (doesn’t all fiction?) that asks the reader to not necessarily identify with the main characters in the novel, but rather to reflect on the conditions in which she exists. This is a genre that began in film and is making it’s way into the literary vernacular, especially in France and England. Also known as docufiction or ethnography, it aims to take the viewer or reader into the world of a marginalized part of society and present that reality through the eyes of a main character. In Auge’s slim novel,translated by Chris Turner, he chooses to focus on homelessness through the life of the main character, Henri. Divorce, retired and struggling financially besides receiving a small pension, he sells all his belongings, gives up his studio apartment and moves into his Mercedes(pretty posh for a homeless guy).

Through diary entries, we learn of his nomadic life around his neighborhood: where he moves in car to avoid tickets, the cafe he visits to sit during the day and evening, and his homeless colleague who lives on the pavement near his parking space. As he gradually disengages from society and responsibility, the loneliness and alienation from mainstream society become contrastingly overwhelming but comfortable. At the end of the novel, he is forced to make a choice about whether he will decide to participate in society as he once had or to continue as homeless. What makes this so engaging is that even though we are drawn into the desperation of homelessness and our dismissal of the homeless, we still identify with the main character because it so well written.

I really enjoyed this book because as quick it was to read, Henri stuck with as well as the questions Auge raised. As far as the narrator, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another favorite of mine, The Waitress Was New about a lonely unemployed bartender on the outskirts of Paris. The same honest and touching voice. It also had elements of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which is a memoir, but began as a piece of investigative reporting and doesn’t feel to far off from ethnofiction.

The second novel I’d recommend is another short one, but no less intriguing. Scissors by Stephane Michaka is actually almost three times as long as No Fixed Abode, but reads just as quickly.

Michaka recreates the last ten years of Raymond Carver’s life through alternating voices – Douglas, his editor (okay, Gordon Lish), Marianne, his ex-wife and Joanne, his new poetess-lover and his own. There are fictionalized excerpts of Carver stories that add to the believability of this imagined decade. The fraught relationship between Douglas and Ray eventually leads to a power struggle between who is actually responsible for Carver’s success. No doubt they are inextricable. What makes this books so strong is that essentially Michaka gets to the kernel of the creative process from beginning to end including the pitfalls of alcoholism, passivity, ego and the trials of those who support a creative personality. The book feels very American because the subject is Carver whose stamp on the minimalist style pushed it to the front of acceptable literary styles. This American feel is due equally to the writer and the translator, John Cullen. Carver, like any artist American or not, struggled and at the end we see it not as Raymond Carver struggling, but the possible battles that lie in waiting for any creative pursuit.

The last novel is from a new ebook publisher that I’m really excited about, Frisch and Co.. Among other their new titles is Under This Terrible Sun by Carlos Busqued, translated by Megan McDowell, a brutal, downbeat novel full of weed, violence, carcasses and squid.

Part me of thinks, “I know, don’t ask,” but the other part of me(I guess it’s the sick part) couldn’t put down this stoner tale of criminality. Cetarti is a pot-smoking loser nearing forty, who is unemployed and running out of money. And like it always does, trouble starts with a phone call. He finds out that his mother and older brother were shot by her married boyfriend who then shot himself. He drives from Cordoba to Lapachito where the remains of his mother and brother are and is met by Duarte, a smarmy, aged, pot-smoking friend of Molina, Cetarti’s mother’s lover. Duarte offers a deal to Cetarti to collect on insurance. Cetarti is quick to agree since he has no emotional attachment to his mother or brother and is in need of money. A bit later we are introduced to a second narrator, Danielito, the son of Molina’s ex-wife. Danielito is young and also a heavy duty pot-smoker. He is the minion of Duarte who turns out to be a violent kidnapper. Through a weed haze, we learn of each character’s fascinations including giant squid, dancing elephants, disgusting fetish porn and model airplanes. Despite all that, I was drawn in by the duality of each character and bizarre loyalties each one rationalizes. Even though it’s difficult to believe anything gets done with all the 420 going on, there is a streamlined plot that pushes this forward in a really powerful way.

It’s about time I return to more entries for this year’s award, but it’s reading very well so far. Don’t just take my word for it, grab one the titles above and see for yourself. Stay tuned for posts from all our judges!

11 June 12 | Will Evans | Comments

The latest review to our Reviews Section is a piece by Brian Libgober on Michael Wallner’s The Russian Affair, which John Cullen translated from German and is available from Nan A. Talese Books.

Here is part of his review:

Michael Wallner’s second novel opens with its female protagonist watching as a bearded man goes for a swim in the river. It is twenty degrees below zero and windy. Welcome to 1960’s Moskva (not Moscow), a place where national elites eat zakuski instead of hors d’oeuvres and drive chaiki instead of limos.

Atmosphere is no doubt one of The Russian Affair’s strongest suits. The book presents an account of everyday life during the Brezhnev era that is both knowledgeable and authentic. Not all of it will come as a surprise to Western readers. The use of newspaper instead of toilet paper, the endless lines, the resentment toward elite privilege – these were all details of daily life in communist Russia that were well-reported in the West. Wallner references these facts early on in the book (one imagines that he would have to), but he doesn’t stop there. He uncovers an astounding variety of day-in-the-life minutiae that will be surprising and fascinating to most. He describes the struggle for necessities like screws and washers, the angling for a grave within the Moscow city limits, the ability of any government vehicle to supersede traffic law, the bath houses, the almost religious importance society invested poetry, etc. The details roll on and on without becoming dull. One could almost believe that the German screenwriter/author had grown up there.

Click here to read the entire review.

11 June 12 | Will Evans | Comments

Michael Wallner’s second novel opens with its female protagonist watching as a bearded man goes for a swim in the river. It is twenty degrees below zero and windy. Welcome to 1960’s Moskva (not Moscow), a place where national elites eat zakuski instead of hors d’oeuvres and drive chaiki instead of limos.

Atmosphere is no doubt one of The Russian Affair’s strongest suits. The book presents an account of everyday life during the Brezhnev era that is both knowledgeable and authentic. Not all of it will come as a surprise to Western readers. The use of newspaper instead of toilet paper, the endless lines, the resentment toward elite privilege – these were all details of daily life in communist Russia that were well-reported in the West. Wallner references these facts early on in the book (one imagines that he would have to), but he doesn’t stop there. He uncovers an astounding variety of day-in-the-life minutiae that will be surprising and fascinating to most. He describes the struggle for necessities like screws and washers, the angling for a grave within the Moscow city limits, the ability of any government vehicle to supersede traffic law, the bath houses, the almost religious importance society invested poetry, etc. The details roll on and on without becoming dull. One could almost believe that the German screenwriter/author had grown up there.

Even though Wallner’s story is best classified as an erotic thriller, the book is clearly in dialogue with Anna Karenina. His female lead, Anna, was named by her father, a state-sponsored poet, whose oeuvre bears a resemblance to the writings of Isaac Babel. Unlike Tolstoy’s Karenina, Wallner’s Anna is both a realist and a pragmatist. A married woman with proletarian concerns, her affair has little to do with either sex or love. It has a lot more to do with getting good health care for her child and escaping the drudgery of her practical marriage. The tension driving the novel does not come primarily from the psychological tension in Anna’s head over her affair, but rather from the high-stakes political intrigue into which she has been thrust. The differences between The Russian Affair and Anna Karenina provoke reflection on the eccentricities of the era, as well as on our own book-publishing climate.

John Cullen’s translation reads briskly. Its prose is rich in detail, but is not overly ornate:

Gray-brown buildings with missing plaster, a collapsing barbed wire fence, a street full of potholes, the rusting skeleton of a cannibalized tractor at the side of the road. Across the street a storefront whose sign was missing so many letters that the word bakery could barely be deciphered. Anna’s heart sank; in the middle of the street, she turned around in a circle. Silence reigned, but somewhere far off, a generator was running. The air smelled like fire. (The Russian Affair, 386)

Wallner’s second novel is a solid follow-up to his debut, April in Paris, and a strong entry to the erotic-thriller market. He continues to hone his social-history intensive style, which brings an intellectual edge unique to his preferred genre.

1 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Erika Howard on Manuel de Lope’s The Wrong Blood, which was translated from the Spanish by John Cullen and available from Other Press.

Manuel de Lope has published fourteen books in his native Spain, but this is the first of his works to be translated into English. Based on the reviews of The Wrong Blood that I’ve read, hopefully this won’t be his last. Even the NY Times gave it (and translator John Cullen) some love in this past Sunday’s Book Review:

This absorbing novel — the first from the distinguished Spanish author to be translated into English — is full of mild sensations. Mild humor (bacalao soaked for dinner in the toilet tank) gives way to mild horror (a woman bends over another’s baby with “the posture of certain all-consuming insects”), which in turn yields to mild philosophizing (on the “admiration that denizens of the rural world feel for folding things”). At times, the mildness turns to provocation, as when the main character, a simple yet baffling woman named María Antonia Etxarri, watches a troop of soldiers and has “a feeling that one of those soldiers, if not more than one, was going to rape her.” The placidity with which she faces this prospect is galvanic. But de Lope’s languid sentences, artfully translated by John Cullen, continue to unfurl, and you find yourself sinking back into the narrative as if it were quicksand.

Erika Howard is interning with Open Letter this semester, and this is her first book review . . . Here’s how it opens:

When you imagine a typical “war novel,” what do you think of? Most people would answer bloody battlefields and brother-against-brother dramatics, lack of supplies and bleak outlooks. However, The Wrong Blood is undeniably a novel that is centered around war, and yet these things are only minimally addressed. Instead, de Lope’s novel focuses on the impact of war on civilians—those not directly engaged in fighting, or (generally) in any of the more violent aspects of it, but affected nonetheless. Specifically, it focuses on two women, and how their lives were changed and intertwined through a course of events set in motion by the war.

One of these women is Isabel Cruces, an upper-class woman who marries Captain Julen Herráiz. Her husband is sent off to war, and she is widowed not long after. Her tragedy is directly connected to Maria Antonia Extarri, the daughter of a former inn keeper, who is abandoned as a teenager when her parents flee the war and their home. Maria is raped when soldiers take refuge at her family’s inn, and, through a series of events (both emotional and physical), she eventually ends up as a maid to Isabel. From the beginning, there is an acknowledgement of an odd bond between the two women, but no explanation as to why for the better part of the book. Manuel de Lope does manage to keep it in the front of the reader’s mind, however, referencing it off and on, clearly but without overdoing it, as in this passage . . .

To read that passage and the rest of the review, simply click here.

1 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

When you imagine a typical “war novel,” what do you think of? Most people would answer bloody battlefields and brother-against-brother dramatics, lack of supplies and bleak outlooks. However, The Wrong Blood is undeniably a novel that is centered around war, and yet these things are only minimally addressed. Instead, de Lope’s novel focuses on the impact of war on civilians—those not directly engaged in fighting, or (generally) in any of the more violent aspects of it, but affected nonetheless. Specifically, it focuses on two women, and how their lives were changed and intertwined through a course of events set in motion by the war.

One of these women is Isabel Cruces, an upper-class woman who marries Captain Julen Herráiz. Her husband is sent off to war, and she is widowed not long after. Her tragedy is directly connected to Maria Antonia Extarri, the daughter of a former inn keeper, who is abandoned as a teenager when her parents flee the war and their home. Maria is raped when soldiers take refuge at her family’s inn, and, through a series of events (both emotional and physical), she eventually ends up as a maid to Isabel. From the beginning, there is an acknowledgement of an odd bond between the two women, but no explanation as to why for the better part of the book. Manuel de Lope does manage to keep it in the front of the reader’s mind, however, referencing it off and on, clearly but without overdoing it, as in this passage:

However, anyone familiar with the two locales—that is, the Extarri inn at the crossroads and the Las Cruces villa in Hondarribia—could have told that one of the two had pervaded the other through the subtle introduction of symbols and emblems that assuredly were not limited to the buffalo head and the china chamber pot. Knowing eyes would have detected Maria Antonia’s influence in the house after the Senora’s death and the expropriation and destruction of the inn. Thus her universe now extended beyond the kitchen, where she spent so much of her time, and her room, which had always been the servant’s quarters.

The story of these two women is told in drips and drabbles, more in flashback and hints dropped by the crippled doctor who lives next door, probably the only one (or at the very least, one of the few living) who knows the secret that bonds Maria and Isabel. Thus the connections that are intricately laid can be difficult to trace unless you stop and focus on them. Perhaps this is a side effect of a few too many connections; perhaps it’s the simple fact that some of these connections were announced fairly early in the novel. Either way, by the end of the story it takes a moment to recall exactly why everything was connected.

However, even with the momentary confusion that happens once or twice, the good outweighs the bad. Manuel de Lope constructs a story about war that seems relatable, even though the (very large) majority of readers will never face a scenario like this. The emotions are true, and the setting rarely strays to a far-off battlefield, or really anywhere too difficult for an average reader to imagine. The storyline might be a little far-fetched, a little too coincidental to be believable, but on the whole the novel stays true to itself, and keeps you engaged. The Wrong Blood is definitely worth the time and attention it requires.

15 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Following up on last week’s post about the various summer/fall 2010 previews that came out from The Millions and elsewhere, I thought that over the next few days, we’d highlight some forthcoming titles that sound pretty interesting to me. Sure I’m missing things and whatnot, so feel free to overload the comments section with recommendations. And click here to see all translation preview posts.

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Germany, New Directions)

From an interview with superstar translator Susan Bernofsky:

I’m just finishing up a new Jenny Erpenbeck novel for New Directions, Visitation, a book whose main character is a house. It’s a fascinating story, a sort of concise chronicle or saga that takes us through all the various upheavals of twentieth-century German history—but rather than being different generations of a single family, the characters in the book come from various families that overlap with and replace one another—sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. It’s a compelling, mysterious book, and I’m stunned by how skillfully Erpenbeck weaves the strands of the various stories together. There’s one passage in which she writes about children playing in a garden, and after a certain point you realize that some of these children are literally in the garden of the house while others are many thousands of miles away, in exile after their families were forced to flee—in the storytelling she turns the narration of a historical moment into a sort of outward explosion in space.

Sold!

Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec, translated from the French by Marc Lowenthal (France, Wakefield Press)

Wakefield Press doesn’t receive nearly as much play as it deserves. Marc Lowenthal (translator, publisher, etc.) is producing some fascinatingly strange books in absolutely gorgeous editions. (I highly recommend The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners which is one of the raunchiest, funniest books I’ve ever read. And by raunchy I mean there’s some really sick shit in there.) And Perec! One of the all time bests. And this small book is perfectly Perec-ian: for three days he records everything he sees as part of a “quest of the ‘infraordinary’: the humdrum, the nonevent, the everyday—‘what happens,’ as he put it, ‘when nothing happens.’”

Sleepwalker by Margarita Karapanou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Greece, Clockroot)

No matter what, I’d include this book on the list simply because I think Karen Emmerich is amazing and Clockroot extremely daring and interesting. But check this quote:

“God was tired . . . He looked down at his earth and what it had become . . . His people had betrayed him . . . Thus it was that he decided to send a new god to earth, a god people would recognize and worship from the start—a god made in their image, a god they deserved . . . He clutched his stomach, leaned over the earth, and vomited.”

Yep. And here’s an excerpt from Clockroot, and one from Words Without Borders.

The Woman with the Bouquet by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (France, Europa Editions)

This is the second Schmitt book to come out from Europa — the other being The Most Beautiful Book in the World — and both story collections sound pretty intriguing. But the real reason I wanted to mention this book is because it is fourth translation of Alison Anderson’s coming out this year. She’s like the C.C. Sebathia of literary translation!

The Clash of Images by Abdelfattah Kilito, translated from the French by Robyn Creswell (Morocco, New Directions)

This sounds very cool. It’s described as a “sweet, Borgesian mix of bildungsroman memoir, family history, short-story collection, fable, and literary criticism.” It also has a great cover, a brilliant quote from Elias Khoury (“We normally speak of writing as an adventure, but Kilito dares his reader to travel with him, on a quest to override the boundaries between reality and fiction, between literary criticism and storytelling”), and Creswell won a PEN Translation Award for this.

The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Portugal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

With Saramago passing away just a few weeks ago, it’s a good time to look over his career. I haven’t read many of the recent titles, but back in the day, I really liked Blindness, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, The Stone Raft, Blindness, and Balthasar and Blimunda, which is the book The Elephant’s Journey most calls to mind.

In 1551, King Joao III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. The elephant’s journey from Lisbon to Vienna was witnessed and remarked upon by scholars, historians, and ordinary people. Out of this material, José Saramago has spun a novel already heralded as “a triumph of language, imagination, and humor” (El País).

The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope, translated from the Spanish by John Cullen (Spain, Other Press)

A couple months back, I met with some of the editors at Other Press, and they all raved about this book. Manuel de Lope has a solid reputation in Spain, and this is his first book to be published in English. All I’ve been able to read so far is the opening sentence, but this (along with the jacket copy and Katie’s recommendation) has me pretty intrigued:

It was the month of May, or the month of June, in any case summer was near, and within only a few weeks the war would break out, although nobody knew this at the time, and those who had premonitions couldn’t go so far as to believe them, because fear rejects what the intuition accepts, and they wouldn’t have been able to convince anybody anyway.

....
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