Our latest GoodReads Giveaway is for Amanda Michalopoulou’s Why I Killed My Best Friend, which may well win the prize for the best Open Letter title ever. And, along with Navidad & Matanza, it’s in the running for one of the best blurbs:
“Flawlessly translated, Amanda Michalopolou’s WIKMBF uses the backdrop of Greek politics, radical protests, and the art world to explore the dangers and joys that come with BFFs. Or, as the narrator puts it, ‘odiodsamato,’ which translates roughly as ‘frienemies.’”—Gary Shteyngart
This novel, which is coming out in May, is the second book of Michalopoulou’s to come out in the U.S., the first being I’d Like, which Dalkey brought out a few years back. (And both of which are translated by Karen Emmerich.) It’s a book about two women—Maria who relocates to Greece from Africa, and Anna who moved to Greece from Paris—and their lifelong “friendship” that is filled with both unquestioned support and bitter competition.
The structure of the novel, and the way it fills in the details of their present day relationship (which is reignited when Anna’s daughter ends up in Maria’s art class) with flashbacks to the tumultuous events of growing up in Greece in 70s works incredibly well, and provides and interesting look into the impact politics can have on friendships and life in general.
We’re giving away 20 copies, so if you’re a GoodReads user, be sure and sign up below.
Also, we’re in the final stages of planning a reading tour for Amanda that will take place in April. More information about that in the near future.
The Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Saturday, and as always, I wish I could’ve been there. I was able to attend a few years back, and was really impressed by how many people were out browsing the stands, attending panels and readings, and generally getting excited about books. And from what I’ve heard the festival has grown every year since.
As covered in The Mantle, this year’s BKBF included a “Reading the World” panel featuring some of my favorite publishers and translators including Karen Emmerich, Susan Bernofsky, Ugly Duckling, and Zephyr. Here’s a clip from Shaun Randol’s write-up:
Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). (Note to participants: correct me if you see a mistake! There were no Cliffs Notes for what we were listening to on stage.) Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then . . . Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!? Ms. Emmerich, if you are reading this, please put the information in the comments section below!
Next up, Susan Bernofksy (Team New Directions), reading from German author Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation. I have nothing written down in my notebook here. This is what happens when the story is too absorbing—you neglect your reporter duties. A complete blank because my eyes were closed and I just listened to the pitter-patter of her voice as she conveyed one of a dozen stories taking place in a single house over generations in what must be an exceptionally intricate novel penned by Erpenbeck. The house is/was real (it belonged to Erpenbeck’s family), so how much of the story is as well? Ahhhh . . . German intrigue . . .
Sounds like a fun panel—one of many that took place. Ah well. Next year . . . There’s always next year . . .
Aside from bringing some attention to this fair/panel, it’s worth spending some time looking around The Mantle. Embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve come across the site, which is dedicated to providing “a forum for the next generation of leaders to be heard—a space for opinions that are different from those found in traditional, established outlets.” It’s an interesting publication, with a very international focus, and an intriguing book review section. Definitely worth checking out.
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)
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.
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.”
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.
Below is a guest post from Monica Carter, a member of the BTBA fiction committee, bookseller at Skylight, and curator of Salonica. Thanks again for all your help covering the longlist titles!
Ersi Sotiropoulos, a virtuoso of postmodern Greek fiction, masters the short story in her collection, Landscape with Dog and Other Stories. Sotiropoulos, whose 2000 novel Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees, won both the national Greek book award and the book critics award, continues to use her deft sense of psychological insight and poetic language to give us portraits of the intimate and the abstract.
From the very first story, there is a familiarity that draws the reader in, that reminds of something comforting. But Sotiropoulos layers on top of that security a sense of foreboding. There is an ambiguity to her scenes and to her characters so that we are left to question our own instincts. She infuses the narrative of each story with a controlled terror that makes characters relationship seem like they could snap at any moment. Yet, she never gives us that release or makes it that easy for the reader, that definitive. The beginnings, middles and ends are blurry and we are left to decide where the story began and ended. This is not to say that the stories in this collection are not definitive, they are. They present the moments in life that fall into the grey area, that at one point may look white and then years later, pitch black. This requires a very deliberate prose, a deep understanding of narrative tension and skilled working knowledge of human behavior. Even more impressive is that Karen Emmerich’s translation let’s all of Sortiropoulos’ style and depth showcase itself in a sparse fluidity. The best way to understand what Sortiropoulos has to offer is to read this excerpt from “Christmas with Leo,” which is an woman addressing her dog after she tells him a story, but somehow it feels as if she is addressing the reader:
He isn’t satisfied with the denouement. He wants something more, I know. A happy ending or some big drama. But there’s nothing I can do. That something doesn’t exist. And I don’t want to lie to him. For a while we eye one another, tense as a dog and cat. Then he lays his head on my shoulder and sighs deeply. We sit there side by side, motionless, watching the lights on the tree.
And that’s how we feel as we read engaging story after engaging story, we come to terms with what she gives us, with what life gives us. Big things happen, but it’s in the moments, hours, days, and years later that we parse it out emotionally. She lets us see those moments when we know something is about to happen and illuminates in them the fear of the inevitable. All of this is done with an agile poetic hand that turns away from the lyrical but hits head on the dense and minimal, as shown in the story “The Woman” where she describes a couple making love upstairs, “their headboard hitting the wall rhythmically, monotonously. Tock, tock. An epilectic’s morse.” Details like that rise out of the narrative with a subtle and thunderous boom and it’s difficult to escape the oppressive quality of these stories.
Finding a convenient way out of her stories is difficult and that makes her challenging and simultaneously satisfying. Sotiropoulos gives us no directives. She leads us down a path but we never end up where we think we are going. The reader is expecting doom and is on edge waiting for it, like in “An Almost Guinea Fowl,” where a couple, Maro and Telis, invite over another couple to enjoy the guinea fowl that they bought which turns out to not to be guinea fowl, but some cheaper substitute. As the evening progresses, Telis threatens to tell the guests while they are in the nursery, tending to their crying infant:
“Tell them,” he said listlessly. “Tell them, if it’ll make you feel better.”
Maro started to cry, little sobs that kept getting louder. Her tears fell on the baby, who woke up and wriggled around in the crib. She picked him up and pressed his forehead to her wet cheeks. He was warm and very soft, almost spineless, and every so often his little body would give an irritated jerk as if shot through by an electric current. Suddenly he let out a loud shriek and hit her face with his head.
“I’m going back,” Telis said.
She stood there in the half darkness, with her back against the door and the baby in her arms. They were both crying, pressed up against each other, and the sound of their breathing, fitful and erratic, pierced the milky light of the room.
Scenes like this pull us along in search of a resolution. The couple in trouble, the dysfunctional mother and son, the depressed writer become fertile emotional landscapes that Sotiropoulos mines for fissures that happen long before the final break happens. It’s her acuity of the small breaks in relationships that drive this collection and make it fraught with an anxiety that is enervating and invigorating. Landscape with Dog and Other Stories lets us see what a consummate writer she is who has the power to capture the tiny moments of discomfort and doesn’t dare to give us answers, but to let us find our own way.
Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading has a wonderfully detailed write up of the Center for the Art of Translation Event that took place last week where Karen Emmerich read from the work of four of her favorite Greek authors.
You should really read Scott’s complete write-up, but here’s are the brief highlights of the four authors:
Emmerich started the event by reading from the text I’d Like, [by Amanda Michalopoulou] which was awarded the NEA’s International Literature Prize. I have seen I’d Like variously described as a novel in stories, a collection of linked stories, a fictional biography, or the shards of a novel yet to form itself.
I’d Like was one of my favorite books from the 2009 Best Translated Book longlist and hopefully someone (possibly Open Letter) will bring out more of Michalopoulou’s work.
The second writer Emmerich presented was the poet Eleni Vakalo. [. . .] Emmerich read from a book of Vakalo’s that is one of a collection of nine books called The Other Side of Things, written between 1954 and 1994. Emmerich described this work as as one continuous poem with titles interspersed and called these 9 books, which she is currently translating, a 15-year project.
The third of the four authors presented Tuesday afternoon was Ersi Sotiropoulos, an avant-garde Greek writer born in 1953. Emmerich first discussed the odd case of her book Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees, which was censored as pornographic and removed from school libraries in Greece. Emmerich considered this to be a sexist gesture, as she noted that one of the most celebrated works in the Greek postwar period, Megas Anatolikos (Great Eastern by Andreas Embirikos), is a completely filthy work that consists of the transatlantic journey of what Embirikos calls a “hedonistic vessel.”
The final author that Emmerich read from was the Greek poet Miltos Sachtouris, whose collection Poems (published by Archipelago Books) was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007.
Might be because it’s Monday, but this event strikes me as a sort of perfect storm of international literature . . . You have a incredibly talented translator giving English readers recommendations of four modern Greek writers that have been published in translation at an event organized by one of the premiere translation organizations in the country and reported on by one of the best international literature blogs . . .
Lots of interesting pieces in the new issue of Words Without Borders, which focuses on Greece this month.
I have to admit that I haven’t heard of many of these writers (although the pieces by Thanassis Valtinos, Margarita Karapanou, and Ioanna Karystiani look particularly interesting), I am familiar with both Karen Emmerich, who translated a number of these pieces for this issue. Karen’s a great translator (her translation of Amanda Michalopoulou’s I’d Like was on the 2009 Best Translated Book Fiction Longlist), and in addition to translating a few pieces for this issue, she also guest edited it and wrote an introductory essay — Modern Greek Literature, Inside (and) Out:
The handful of pieces included in this issue represent only a small sample of recent Greek prose dealing with emigration and immigration, and with the challenges they pose to national, cultural, and ethnic identity. The selection is also, by design, rather eclectic, in style and form, and in the particular ways in which these works engage the issues I have been outlining. I have brought together texts about Greeks living abroad and texts about foreigners living in Greece; the selection as a whole deals with migration on a number of socio-economic levels and in a variety of historical situations. Many of the pieces included already juxtapose the figures of the emigrant and the immigrant in an attempt to make sense of the experiences of the cultural “other” by way of analogy; by presenting these writings as a group, I hope to further enable that work of empathetic comparison.
And just to put this in context—according to our translation database, four Greek books came out in the U.S. last year (in addition to the Michalopoulou, Green Integer did a collection of poetry by Nikos Engonopoulos, Etruscan Press published Alexis Stamatis’s American Fugue, and Parmenides did Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides) and only two titles (poetry collections by C. P. Cavafy and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke) are on the list for 2009 . . .
If only teleporting was cheap, and, you know, possible . . .
Friday, January 23, 2009
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Housing Works Bookstore Café
126 Crosby Street
New York, NY
Panelists Esther Allen, translator, former co-director of PEN World Voices, author of International PEN report on Translation and Globalization; Yvette Chrisianse, South African poet, novelist, professor; Elizabeth Macklin, poet, translator from Basque of Uribe; Jill Schoolman, Director of Archipelago Books; Karen Emmerich, translator of NBCC award finalist Miltos Sachtouris, among other Greek writers.
Moderator: NBCC board member and poet Kevin Prufer (National Anthem), editor of Pleiades and coeditor of “New European Poets” (Graywolf).
You can find out more (and RSVP) on the Facebook event page.
For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.
I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. (Greece, Dalkey Archive)
For me, this collection of linked stories (or collection of unwritten novels? or metafictional labyrinth?) has been the most pleasant surprise on the Best Translated Book fiction longlist so far.
Back a few years ago, when I was working at Dalkey Archive, I wrote the grant application that got this book a decent amount of funding from the NEA and Greek Government as part of the “International Literary Exchange” program that Dana Gioia of the NEA had put together. Anyway, at that time, Ana Lucic had found out about Amanda Michalopoulou and was able to give me a reader’s report and a short sample of the book to help with writing the grant. (In case you’re wondering, it’s great fun writing grants about books you haven’t read in their entirety. On one hand, providing details about why a book is grant-worthy becomes a bit more tricky, but it’s easier to believe that a book is “one of the most important works of the time” without any contradictory literal evidence.)
The sample that I remember reading is the story “What Will You Do Next?” in which a character and his author have a conversation on the phone. It’s a very playful, and very well done story, that got me excited about the book as a whole. (And btw, Karen Emmerich’s translation was incredibly well done. The Emmerich family is a wee bit talented.) But I left Dalkey before the finished translation arrived and over the winter break, finally had a chance to read this book and see just how imaginative, captivating, and complex it is.
When I read “linked stories” in jacket copy, I assume that some of the same characters appear from one story to the next. A baker in story one becomes the protagonist of story four, etc. But I’d Like is a bit more complicated than that. In her own words, Michalopoulou tried “to write stories that would read like versions of an unwritten novel. Or, better, to write the biography of those stories as well as their fictional writer.”
The result is somewhat reminiscent of Nicholas Mosley’s Impossible Object in which a character in one story seems to the be author of a few others, but each time the reader feels she’s figured it all out, the line between fiction and reality jumps once again, and you’re left wondering just how these gem-like stories really fit together.
I’m probably making this sound more confusing than it is . . . Part of Michalopoulou’s triumph is the way in which each story can be read and thoroughly enjoyed independent of the others, but the motifs littered throughout the book help create a sort of grand mosaic when taken as a whole. And it’s through these recurring lines and scenes—the older sister who dies in a car accident, the mom who is tragically injured, the idea that rain only exists inside us and we see it externally when it’s “raining for enough people,” the red beret, etc.—that the reader starts to see a knotted metafictional pattern emerge.
Monica Carter (curator of Salonica World Lit) reviewed this for us a few months back and called for publishers to bring out more of Michalopoulou’s work . . . More recently, Monica interviewed Michalopoulou for Context that touches on the “recurring motif” aspect of the book (and other things):
MC: It’s interesting that you felt you need to strengthen the presence of the red beret. I loved its appearance throughout I’d Like. I also felt that there was a definite drive to communicate certain ideas and themes, as though these stories were a form of release. Were you conscious of that, or was it more of an exploration of each character?
AM: It was both. Characters are the vehicles of ideas, but they have to work as characters. If not, you’re writing theory, not literature. The idea behind the characters in this book is that family can be a mechanism of oppression. I guess all my characters feel very clearly that they are obeying other people’s wishes. Writing can be a true act of disobedience, so the desire the younger sister has to write these stories down is a step towards salvation. I believe that writing can and should do that: save characters who are suffering, and, possibly, their author as well.
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .