13 April 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer.



Monastery – Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
Bellevue Literary Press

One of three titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist to feature more than one translator (Andrés Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves [which I’ll be writing more about next week] and Leopoldo Marechal’s Adam Buenosayres being the two others), Eduardo Halfon’s Monastery was translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn – both of whom helped render Halfon’s earlier book, The Polish Boxer, into English (with the help of three other translators). Since BTBA’s inception in 2008, no Spanish-language work (in either the fiction or poetry categories) has ever taken home the much-coveted prize. Curiously – and disproportionately – some 43% of the fiction awards have gone to books translated from the Hungarian (with László Krasznahorkai having won twice, of course). For the 2015 award, eight of the twenty-five longlisted fiction titles were originally published in Spanish. With so many great books in contention for this year’s honor, perhaps 2015 will see BTBA’s first Spanish-language award winner.

Born in Guatemala City in 1971, Halfon has written about a dozen books, yet only The Polish Boxer and Monastery have yet made their way into English translation. In 2007, Halfon was named to the prestigious Hay Festival Bogotá39 list of young Spanish-language authors of great promise (along with fellow BTBA longlister Andrés Neuman). Despite being a relatively young writer, Halfon and his work have already attracted wide praise and considerable acclaim. As a one-time semifinalist for the Premio Herralde, a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and winner of the José María de Pereda Prize for Short Novel, perhaps Halfon may soon add a BTBA win to his shelf of accolades – as Monastery is well deserving of taking home the 2015 fiction award.

Composed of eight short stories, Monastery reads more like a single novel than it does a disparate collection of tales. As with its predecessor, The Polish Boxer, Monastery follows the travels of its semi-autobiographical narrator (himself named Eduardo Halfon, in keeping with the tradition of so many other self-referential Spanish-language novelists) as he alights into settings and scenarios that unfold on multiple continents. Halfon (as both author and narrator) delves into themes of individuality, personhood, and the oft-mysterious relationships that connect us to one another.

With an almost palpable reverence for meaningful experience and understanding personal history (whether his own or that of his characters), Halfon effortlessly braids lyrical language and keen observation to form a moving, reflective, and humbly resounding work of fiction. Monastery’s unassuming stories are themselves rewarding, but in collecting these far-flung moments into a single pastiche, they symbiotically meld into a rich, animate narrative – not unlike the way life itself is captured in the amassing of singular and often serendipitous occurrences and interactions.

Monastery, with its beautiful prose, vibrant imagery, and singular outlook on the abundance of individual and shared experience, deserves to win this year’s Best Translated Book Award. As an ambassador of both worldly wonder and sublime storytelling, Eduardo Halfon’s Monastery, despite its brevity, is truly a marvel.

You travel a lot, he said suddenly, as he looked over all the stamps. I didn’t know whether this was a question or an observation and so I remained silent, watching him sitting there in front of me, on the other side of a black metal desk. He couldn’t have been twenty. His face was beardless, dark brown, gleaming. His green khaki uniform fit him too tightly. He seemed unbothered by the beads of sweat that ran slowly down his forehead and neck. So you like traveling, he mused without looking at me, in the contemptuous tone of a new soldier. I considered telling him that all our journeys are really one single journey, with multiple stops and layovers. That every journey, any journey, is not linear, and is not circular, and it never ends. That every journey is meaningless. But I didn’t say anything. Through the open door I could make out the noise of motorcycles, trucks, vans, a ranchera being sung on a transistor radio, thunder in the distance, swarms of flies and mosquitoes and men shouting offers to buy and sell Belizean dollars. Revolving in the corner, an old floor fan simply circulated the humid afternoon jungle heat. ~from “White Sand, Black Stone”

10 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For the handful of people who read these posts every month (I hope there are at least three of you), unfortunately, this one is going to be pretty short. I’m really strapped for time right now, with four trips (to New York, Bennington, Toronto, Seattle-Portland) and at least seven different events scheduled for the next month. And then, after than, AWP followed by two Jón Gnarr events. Summer “break” can’t come quick enough.

That said, yesterday was such a great day. Time jumped ahead and suddenly it was light outside after six pm. Not only that, but the “Real Feel ™” for Rochester was actually ABOVE zero. Really! Snow melted, children smiled, people took off their gloves. I actually thought (although only thought) about washing my car. The start of the baseball season (which kicks off with my beloved Cardinals playing the hated Cubs) is only twenty-six days away, and Selection Sunday for the Greatest Tournament on Earth is only six.

This horrendous winter is almost over.

So, in the spirit of all great Spring Cleanings, I’m going to pitch out all the things that I’m over, that have been annoying me, weighing me down. And then, I’ll brighten the corners with a handful of interesting books in translation. First up, all the crap that I’m just done with, in list form:

Grimy snow; seasonally enhanced depression; not being able to ride my bike; winter weight gain; the soundtrack at L.A. Fitness, which is equivalent to torture with its off-version remixes of every terrible pop song ever; the Kardashians; Time Warner’s On Demand being perennially out of date, probably because Time Warner hates its customers; getting frustrated when Open Letter titles are left off of hipster website lists; “Uptown Funk”; Kate Upton ads for iPhone games I will never play; pretentious coffee shops; Dick Vitale, Stephen A. Smith, and basically all sports pundits; Rochesterians who haven’t watched The Subterranean Stadium short; grading papers; readers who want books and TV shows to be “fun” and feature “likable characters”; bracket-based tournament competitions that are not about college basketball and instead feature things like cupcakes and fast food chains; all the awards ceremonies like the Grammys and the Oscars; and the guilt that comes from not keeping up with email.

And with that all cleaned out, here are some interesting things about a handful of interesting books:

The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Alan Titley (Yale University Press)

Interesting Facts: 1) Ó Cadhain is considered to be the master of modern Irish prose writing, but has never been translated into English; 2) Dalkey is publishing another book of his, The Key later this year; and last, but most interesting, 3) from the press release, “Yale University Press will publish another translation of this novel, Graveyard Clay: Creé na Cille, translated by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson, also as part of the Margellos World Republic of Letters series, in a special annotate edition in 2016.”

God’s Dog by Diego Marani, translated from the Italian by Judith Landry (Dedalus Books)

I wish Diego Marani still wrote in Europanto.

I was just texting with my friend Brian Jay (not his real name!) about the Iona-Manhattan basketball game, and decided that Iona sounds like a college where you can major in “School.” (I’m sure it’s a fine institution.)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (And Other Stories)

“Yuri Herrera must be a thousand years old. He must have travelled to hell, and heaven, and back again. He must have once been a girl, an animal, a rock, a boy, and a woman. Nothing else explains the vastness of his understanding.”—Valeria Luiselli

The Musical Brain and Other Stories by Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)

The cover of this story collection—Aira’s first story collection to appear in English—changes depending on what angle you look at it. (Lenticular printing? Something like that? You know it when you see it.)

Also, Aira is actually coming to the U.S. for this book, and will be doing an event with Open Letter author Sergio Chejfec on Monday, March 23rd at the Cervantes Institute in NY.

The Adventure of the Busts of Eva Peron by Carlos Gamerro, translated from the Spanish by Ian Barnett (And Other Stories)

In 2008, we published a significant speech by Carlos Gamerro about Argentine literature. This was before And Other Stories started bringing out his interesting, unconventional fictions.

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (FSG)

Vargas Llosa, who has something like twenty-four books available in English already, has two titles coming out this year—this new novel and Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society. (Which, with its focus on the “death of the intellectual,” is right up my alley.)

Oh, Salaam! by Najwa Barakat, translated from the Arabic by Luke Leafgren (Interlink)

Interlink is the leading U.S.-based publisher of Arabic literature, and the fact that their books aren’t more regularly reviewed or included on lists like this is criminal. Also, it’s a great selling point when the jacket copy states that the book is “the story of three friends—an explosives expert, a sniper, and a torturer.”

The Dream of My Return by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (New Directions)

Way back in the day, I interviewed Horacio as part of our Reading the World Conversation Series:



The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas (Grove)

This is the fourth Yan Lianke book to make its way into English, which, according to our Translation Database, makes him the second most-translated Chinese author of the past seven years. Only Mo Yan has had more titles published in English during that time (five). There are a few authors who have had three books translated, including my personal favorite, Can Xue.

23 October 14 | Monica Carter | Comments

James Crossley is a bookseller at Island Books. He writes regularly for the store’s Message in a Bottle blog and for the website of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.

Having talked about books that I think other people will probably like, it seems like I should talk at least a bit about the ones I do.

Bohumil Hrabal’s Harlequin’s Millions (translated by Stacey Knecht) has already been highly praised here on the blog by Jeremy Garber (and elsewhere by that inestimable dean of BTBA judges, George Carroll) and I’m calling the shotgun seat on their bandwagon—it really is that good. If you don’t want to trust us, maybe Ivan Vladislavić can talk some sense into you. He calls it a “mesmerizing novel,” and being a brilliant novelist himself, albeit one who writes in the lesser language of English, he should know.

Among the few books in the running that can stack up to HM is Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of Gab, a series of linked short stories put out by Karolinum Press in the Czech Republic. It’s set in the (literally) Bohemian forest village of Kersko, a place notable for drunkenness, lust, venality, and especially the garrulousness of its inhabitants. Their self-serving lies pile up into mountains of manure, and the plots veer from the unbelievable into the surreal and the sublimely ridiculous. Comical, crude, and character-rich, it’s an altogether Hrabal-esque extravaganza of corkscrewing prose. Well, not -esque, because it too is by Bohumil Hrabal. Credit to translator David Short for channeling the flow of the author’s language without stanching it, and to the publisher’s design team as well. This edition is stunning, printed on thick paper that’s a pleasure to touch and practically spilling over with art. It’s bad form to make predictions about the finalists this early in the game, but if Hrabal’s not among them, it’ll only be because he was in competition with himself.

I’m also very high on the much more subdued submission from France’s Pierre Michon, Winter Mythologies and Abbots, which is part of Yale University Press’s Margellos World Republic of Letters series. It combines two short works that were first published separately, and even together they make a book, translated by Ann Jefferson, that clocks in at a scant 116 pages. In both sections, Michon has drawn obscure figures out of the mist of ecclesiastical history and fictionalized episodes from their lives. Their motivations are distinctly pre-modern, driven by a Christian faith that’s barely removed from paganism, and they feel wholly convincing while remaining utterly alien, at least to this hopelessly secular reader. Quiet, complete, and near-perfectly realized, it might be what Austen described when she wrote about “a little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” worked with “so fine a brush.”

From the same Yale series comes David Albahari’s Globetrotter. from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac). Like his earlier novel Leeches, it deals with the fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia, this time treating the conflict more obliquely and displacing it to the placid setting of Banff, British Columbia. At an arts conference, a painter from Saskatchewan becomes obsessed with a Serbian writer and jealous of his burgeoning friendship with the descendant of a Croatian traveler. The vaguely homoerotic triangle that forms is far less important and intense than the maelstrom of ethnic guilt that spins in their psyches and finally wrecks them in an inexorable climax. Warning: Albahari has something against indentations. I think the lack of paragraphing adds to the headlong quality of the tale, but tastes vary. As a public service to traditionalists, I therefore provide an ample selection of pilcrows to be added to the text as needed: ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

No one who’s reading this can be unaware of Open Letter’s track record of excellence with world literature, and it’s always difficult to rank their books against each other, but Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard (trans. by Charlotte Mandel) may be their best publication of 2014. It follows a young Moroccan man as he comes of age at home and travels across the Mediterranean to re-establish himself in Barcelona, and it manages to push almost every cultural hot button along the way. Immigration, terrorism, misogyny, the promise and failure of the Arab Spring … it could come across as a paint-by-number op-ed piece, but in fact it addresses these topics organically. The politics arise inevitably out of the fiction rather than the fiction being an artificial veneer over the politics.

Monastery by Eduardo Halfon comes from the Spanish by way of Lisa Dillman’s translation, and it chronicles the journeys of a Guatemalan writer, not coincidentally named Eduardo Halfon. It can’t quite decide whether it’s a novel or a short story collection, and I’m not sure how much reality or imagination lies behind it, but Halfon makes a good deal of hay out of that confusion. The plot carries him from the jungle of Central America to jazz concerts in North America, submarine bases in Europe, and beaches in Asia, and the unstable structure of the book prismatically expands the possibilities for interpretation. (Those who’ve read his very similar prequel, The Polish Boxer, will have to cope with further contradictions, as characters and events from it recur, subtly altered, in Monastery.) Detachment and dislocation have rarely been so well depicted as this. And believe me, in the middle of trying to read as many as possible of more than 400 books in less than a year, I know from dislocation.

22 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

See this post about Barba for more information about this piece, which was translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

The ad in the “male seeking male” section said:

I’m so alone. Roberto. (91) 3077670.

and was in amongst others listing predictable obscenities and a series of oral necessities. Page 43. At the top. Above a bisexual named Ángel soliciting a threesome and beneath the photo of a man of indeterminate age and sadness who wore a mask that gave him the pathetic air of a terrorist just emerging from the shower; it said so alone just like that, like it was nothing, it said it with the afternoon languor pressing in through the living room window (the one that overlooked the park) almost the way you accept the ritual of Sunday afternoon boredom, with no resentment.

I’m so alone.

If he had accepted Marta’s invitation, now he would have an excuse to get dressed, go out; the doorman’s little desk would be empty, the street would be empty, the dog would stare up at him, watery eyes, panting tongue, tail wagging to the rhythm of his desire to go for a walk, “Platz. Paw. Sit,” repeated, the same as the light, an anonymous conversation beneath his bedroom window (the one that overlooked the patio), traffic.

He bought it last night and the first thing he did was check the ages of the men who’d placed the ads (almost never stated, which was worse because it meant that the majority of them were probably young). The ones who dared to send a photo took the risk of being recognized. He had gone out to buy cigarettes and ended up buying the magazine. When he got home he started to masturbate to one of the personals but ended up using an erotic art catalogue he’d bought last month. When he finished he washed his hands, made some soup and fed the dog. There were no movies on TV. Marta called to invite him over for Sunday lunch with Ramón and the kids and he declined, saying he had other plans. But he didn’t have other plans. The movies playing at the theater didn’t appeal to him enough to make him want to go out, deal with the hassle of the ticket and refreshment lines, and then return home without being able to rave about or even discuss what he’d seen. He hadn’t been to an art exhibit in years. He fell asleep thinking tomorrow he would take it easy at home, and it didn’t sound like a bad idea. Sometimes he liked to stay in, lose track of time watching TV after lunch, listen to Chopin while lounging on the sofa, leafing through a book. The magazine lay on one of the armchairs like a long-drawn-out, accepted failure. After having used it last night, he thought he’d throw it away, but he’d left it there and when he finished watching the afternoon movie it had sat there, looking up at him saying Madrid Contactos on the cover in red letters and death to hypocrisy in smaller ones, under the headline and above the photo of a woman who looked like his brother-in-law Ramón’s sister because, like her, she wore half a ton of mascara on each eye and her thin lips were made up to look fuller, filled in beyond her lip line. He opened it back up to the “male seeking male” section. He lingered over the pictures again and became excited again.

I’m so alone. Roberto. (91) 3077670.

Then it dawned on him that this had been going on for many years. Simply, almost painlessly, he had become resigned to the fact that he himself would never demand the things the personals were asking for, and although on a couple of occasions he had contracted a rent boy and brought him up to his apartment, the fact that he had to pay, the whole act of the wallet, the question, the exchange, turned him off to such a degree that he would then become uncomfortable at how long he took and once or twice ended up asking the guy to leave out of sheer disgust.

The dog barked and he found his shoes to take him down for a walk. He left the light on and put on his coat.


Monday everything looked the same from the bank’s office window. A Coca-Cola sign flashed on and off, as did the recently hung lights announcing the imminent advent of Christmas. He had heard something about an office party and, although he’d said he would go – declining would have launched a desperate search for excuses – they knew, as he did, that it had been years since he had last liked Alberto’s jokes (always the same, whispered to the new secretary or the newest female graduate to be hired), Andrés’s toasts and Sandra’s conversations about the kids. The fact that he was the oldest employee at the office allowed him to decline those invitations, ignore them without having to worry about subsequent hatreds that were felt but never expressed. He enjoyed that in the same way that he enjoyed his solitude, his collection of consolations and little excesses (Napoleon cognac, fancy cigarettes, a weekly dinner at an expensive restaurant) that he had grown used to and that led him to grant that he was a reasonably happy man. Jokes about his homosexuality told in hushed tones at the office met with his indifference, making him invulnerable, and although his exterior coldness had begun as a survival technique, now he really did feel comfortable in it, like someone who finally finds a warm place to take refuge and decides to make do, without yearning for anything better.

But the ad in that magazine said:

I’m so alone. Roberto. (91) 3077670.

And those few words had begun, since he read them on Saturday night, to unravel everything. When he finished work on Monday he felt anxious and he didn’t know why. Or he did, but didn’t want to admit it. Accepting that he wanted to call that number would have meant accepting disorder where, for many long years, there had reigned peace, or something that, without actually being peace, was somehow akin to it: his Napoleon cognac, lunch at Marta’s house once every two weeks, walking the dog, the nightly TV movie he watched until tiredness overcame him, maybe the occasional rent boy he’d bring home in his car and whose presence he would then try to erase as soon as possible, fluffing up the sofa cushions (not the bed, never the bed), opening the windows, repenting.

That night he took the dog for a walk earlier than usual and then it became undeniable. Something had broken. Something fragile and very fine had broken. He always ate dinner first, smoked a cigarette watching TV and then took the dog out. Why hadn’t he done that today? The dog hadn’t even wagged his tail when he saw him approach with the leash and, on the way down in the elevator, had looked up at him with an expression of bovine wonderment.

“Paw,” he said. “Paw” and the dog gave him his paw, tongue out and eyebrows raised, as if his owner were teaching him the rules of a new game.

When he got back he looked for the magazine. He’d left it on the table, he was sure, and now it wasn’t there. He looked in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. He shuffled through his desk drawers. Any other day at this time he would have already had dinner and be smoking his cigarette, getting ready to walk the dog, yet that night not only had he not done it but he was nervous, desperately searching for that magazine that he wouldn’t even have been able to masturbate to without the help of the erotic art catalogue he’d bought last month. Finding himself in this situation increased his desperation, but he didn’t give up until he found it. It was on the floor beside the sofa. He opened it again and became excited reading the personals again, but there was something a little different. It wasn’t the TV, or the cognac, or the dog, but himself, in the midst of all those other things. Reading all of the ads was a game he submitted to, fooling himself and yet all the while knowing precisely what he was looking for. Page 43. At the top. Above a bisexual named Ángel soliciting a threesome and beneath the photo of the nude man with the mask.

I’m so alone. Roberto. (91) 3077670.

Finding it was like feigning surprise when an expected visitor arrived, except this time the surprise was real; it was as if the ad had never been there and he had invented it at the bank. He had never met anyone named Roberto, so –though it was a common name – it had hung in the balance on page 43 like a riddle waiting to be solved. It wasn’t an ugly name. Roberto. Anxiety made him eat the steaks he was saving for the weekend. Now he’d have to go shopping again because the leftover rice he’d been planning to have tonight would have gone bad by tomorrow. This was no good at all. Not that it was bad to have eaten something he was saving for another time; that was one of the sorts of luxuries that made him reasonably happy. But doing it the way he’d done it, just like that, for no reason. But really, had there been reasons the other times?

Half an hour later he couldn’t sleep. He always went to bed early, capitalizing on television’s soporific effect, and that night he couldn’t sleep. He’d taken the magazine with him to bed and left it on his nightstand. He picked it up and opened it but then felt ridiculous. It was all Roberto’s fault. In the open wardrobe door, he could see the dark, faint reflection of his fifty-six year old body in the glow of the television, projecting tiredness and an obesity that, while not obscene, he had never made a serious attempt to combat. He felt pathetic for having entered into the game Roberto was proposing. How – after so many years of reasonable happiness, of peace – could so blatant a ploy have gotten the better of him? Crumpling it up, he took it to the kitchen and threw it in the trash. Then he tied the bag and left it by the door, hoping that the doorman would not have made his rounds yet. Sleep descended upon him that night serene and unburdened. He was proud of himself.


In the morning the trash bag was gone. He could have verified this simply by looking out the peephole but instead he opened the door. At the bank, they asked him if he felt all right when he arrived.

“I have a little bit of a headache,” he said.

“It’s the flu. People are dropping like flies.”

But it wasn’t the flu. The Coca-Cola sign flashed on and off, as did the Christmas lights. It was Christmastime. How had he not realized? Two years ago he’d felt a slow-burning sadness during the holidays, too, and he hadn’t been able to shake it off until they had taken the lights down. But what he felt now wasn’t really sadness. He was anxious. He made a mistake keying in the number of a bank account and spent almost half an hour arguing with a customer who claimed his deposits were not being credited correctly. At lunchtime he went to get the first-aid kit to take his temperature. But he had no fever. He took an aspirin. But he didn’t have a headache. The ad said:

I’m so alone. Roberto, and then there was a phone number. He couldn’t remember the number. He, who had always been so proud of his numeric memory, couldn’t recall the number. It started 307. It started 307 and then there was something like 4680. It wasn’t 4680 but it was similar to 4680. 5690. 3680.

I’m so alone. Roberto, and then 307…

When he left the bank he didn’t go home but instead walked to the kiosk where he’d bought the personals magazine the other day.

“Check over there,” the newsagent said.

It wasn’t there.

“Don’t you have any more?”

“Aren’t there any there?”

“I can’t see any.”

“Then we must be out.”

He couldn’t find it at the sex shop three blocks down, either, and the clerk hadn’t even heard of the magazine. He thought about filing a complaint but that seemed ridiculous. When he got home the dog was restless because he’d been gone so long. He was hungry and wagged his tail. Any other day he’d have felt relaxed arriving home, but this time he didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know if he should sit down or watch TV. He hadn’t eaten dinner yet. He had to walk the dog. Suddenly every act that, for years, he had performed in a ritual of leisurely contentment seemed an unbearable obligation. He put on the dog’s leash and went down to take him for a walk but didn’t follow his usual route. When he got back, though he had no appetite, he ate dinner and then took two sleeping pills. He dreamed of someone he had loved for three long years a long time ago, but he couldn’t see his face; there was only the familiar presence of that body lying beside him, his smell, his saliva.


Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday he went to the bank with a fever. He felt weak but at the same time he wanted to scream. It seemed impossible to him that he had held on this way for so many years. During his lunch break he went out to his usual café-bar for a sandwich and coffee but he felt excluded from everything around him. Wherever he looked, all he saw were couples, kisses, little signs of affection. The cold condescendence he once looked on with now turned against him, blowing up in his face with envy and anxiety. He had to find that magazine. Now.

I’m so alone, said Roberto. He was alone, too. He wanted to be kissing someone, like all those couples, holding someone’s hand, buying presents. Irony was a game he could no longer play.

22 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

As we mentioned last Friday, we’re going to spend the next 22 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here.

First up: Spanish author Andres Barba, whose new short story “The Coming Flood” is included in this issue.



I’ve been hearing about Andres Barba for years thanks to Lisa Dillman. She’s been extremely active in promoting Barba—hailing him as one of the “great young Spanish authors” before this issue of Granta was a footnote in an editor’s dreaming eye.

In fact, one of the first reviews we ever published on Three Percent was this piece by Lisa on Barba’s La hermana de Katia. Katia is an interesting, strange novel, which was also made into a film.

Barba’s a pretty prolific writer . . . He’s all of 35 years old, and in addition to Katia, he’s the author of the novels Ahora tocad musica de baile, Versiones de Teresa, Las manos pequenas, Agosto, octubre, and Muerte de un caballo. In addition (in addition?!?), he received the Anagrama Essay Prize for La ceremonia del porno and wrote a colleciton of novellas entitled La recta intencion. (More on that in a second.)

“The Coming Flood,” the new story included in this issue, which was translated by Lisa Dillman, is about a woman willing to do whatever it takes (mainly prostituting herself) in order to get enough money to have a horn implanted on her face. Which is as strange as it sounds, but is a desire that gathers in intensity as the story progresses:

The idea has a life of its own. She closes her eyes, overcome, feeling something sweet, sharp, finally full of harmony; the safety of the bone. Operations in the past: lips once, breasts four times, ribs removed, cheekbones done, and in her diary, sometimes, between one operation and the next, she’d write ‘I’m a monster.’ Other times she’d write: ‘For my next operation . . .’ Her writing now is perky, vibrant. She doesn’t sleep that night either. Little by little the unrest subsides, but come dawn, it’s back. Now the house, a dank place, befits her large body. Because the body secretes feelings, but you’ve got to be close enough to perceive them. And one day she leaves home and lets out a low moan she’d have liked to make last. Who could say why she walks there when what she wants is to avoid the place? But she holds onto the railing at the entrance and then, as if thrust forcefully, takes one step and then another with the trusty tick-tock of a clock. ‘My face with a horn, my smile with a horn, my arms and legs and tits and cunt with a horn.’ She needs the vulgarity of those words, but there’s no more money. There are no more calls, no more film shoots.

As a special bonus, Lisa Dillman was kind enough to send us an excerpt from Barba’s Nocturne, one of the novellas from La recta intencion. Since this is a pretty long sample, and since I tend to write too many over-long blog posts, I’m going to make this a separate entry, which you can “find here.”:

And don’t forget, if you want to read all of “The Coming Flood” (and 21 other pieces), you can receive this issue for free by subscribing to Granta.

Up tomorrow: Santiago Roncagliolo.

7 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next nine days, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



Op Oloop by Juan Filloy. Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. (Argentina, Dalkey Archive)

I waited years for this book to come out. Years. Back in the early 2000s I went on an editors trip to Germany that was organized by the wonderful Riky Stock and included stops in Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt. During one of these visits (my memory! I assume now that I’ve been in publishing for 10 years, I can start forgetting some details, right?) I met with the guys from Tropen Verlag, who not only were super-cool, but told me that rather than pimp any of their German authors, the one person I needed to pay attention to was a semi-obscure Argentine author named Juan Filloy.

Once I got back to the States, I started looking into Filloy and this handful of facts convinced me that no matter what, we (re: Dalkey Archive) had to publish him:

  • He lived in three centuries—born in the nineteenth, and passing away in 2000 at the age of 106;
  • Julio Cortazar loved him, and references Filloy’s Caterva in chapter 108 of Hopscotch;
  • Freud was a fan of Op Oloop, which led to a personal correspondence between the two;
  • Filloy was a lover of palindromes and wrote over 6,000;
  • and, not to be overlooked, almost all fifty-plus of his novels and collections of poems have seven-letter titles. (Op Oloop, Caterva, Vil y Vil, so on and so forth.)

The plot of Op Oloop is pretty simple: it chronicles the final day and night in the life of its titular character, Op Oloop, a Finnish transplant in Buenos Aires who is recently engaged to Franziska, the Finnish consul’s niece. As he likes to state, Op Oloop is a “man of method,” a statistician who lives his life in a very orderly, pre-arranged way.

Thus, Op Oloop was convinced yet again that it was simply impossible for him to act contrary to his nature. “SUNDAY: WRITING, BETWEEN 7:00 AND 10:00 A.M.” That was the rule. When life is as ordered as a mathematical equation, you can’t just skip a digit whenever you feel like it. Op Oloop was entirely incapable of any impromptu act that might violate the pre-established norms of his routine; even such a trivial, graphical set such as addressing an envelope he’d already begun while still within the allotted time.

It’s clear from the start that Op Oloop isn’t all there—his speech to the employees at his local spa about the need to unite on tipping and form a “Gratuity International” is proof enough—but on this particular day, things go from bad to worse, as Op’s “method” is thwarted and he can’t regain his sense of order.

Filloy’s protagonist is a step beyond eccentric, and Lisa Dillman’s ability to capture his peculiar speech, wordplay, and insanity is quite impressive. This is especially true in the lengthy section detailing Op Oloop’s special dinner with his friends (in preparation for him to sleep with his 1,000th prostitute—a situation that doesn’t go according to plan and is the final nail that breaks Op’s mind). This dinner is the section of the book that seems most Cortazar-like (Hopscotch is filthy with groups of characters bantering and making statements about Argentina and its people), although Filloy’s not quite as tight and witty and fluid as Cortazar (who is?).

“In Hollywood, everyone knows the caloric value of everything. Just as they all aspire unanimously to stardom, they’re all equally fanatical about being tres mince rather than overweight. Truly, there’s a veritable obsession with fat. Dieting forces them all to undertake endless calculations and combinations. All portions are measured on a basis of one-hundred-calorie units. For example, one hundred calories equals: a tablespoon of honey, or two mandarin oranges, or four dates, or twenty asparagus tips, or a quarter-inch thick steak measuring five inches long and two and a half inches wide . . .”

“So you must’ve gone round with tape measures, eyedroppers, and scales . . .”

“It’s not a joke. You know, I’ve noticed that Argentines in general tend to be quite sarcastic, yet they’re entirely lacking in humor deep down. They make fun of everything in particular, and yet as a nation are all unanimously dull. It’s truly incongruous!”

As the novel lurches from scene to scene, Filloy creates an interesting account of one man’s mental breakdown. With the exception of what happens at the whorehouse, most of the underlying motivations for his breakdown are mysterious, summed up by the idea that he’s “method personified.” A more conventional book would delve into this issue, maybe explain how the hell he ended up with Franziska in the first place, etc., etc., but this isn’t a conventional book. Which is why it’s on the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist . . .

26 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a piece on Juan Filloy’s Op Oloop, which was translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press.

Pretty interesting book from a very interesting author:

The first time I heard of Juan Filloy was during an editorial trip to Germany, organized by the German Book Office and including a day of “speed dating” with other publishers. It was at one of my first “dates” that I met the very hip editors from Tropen Verlag who, after finding out that I worked at Dalkey Archive, the publisher of David Markson’s best works, suggested that instead of doing any of the German authors they might recommend, the one author that Dalkey absolutely had to publish was the Argentine writer Juan Filloy, especially his Op Oloop.

Before even getting to his actual novels, there’s a lot Filloy had going for him:

  • He lived in three centuries—born in the nineteenth, and passing away in 2000 at the age of 106;

  • Julio Cortazar loved him, references his Caterva in chapter 108 of Hopscotch;

  • Freud was a fan of Op Oloop, which led to a personal correspondence between the two;

  • Filloy was a lover of palindromes and wrote over 6,000;

  • and, not to be overlooked, almost all fifty-plus of his novels and collections of poems have seven-letter titles. (Op Oloop, Caterva, Vil y Vil, so on and so forth.)

Who wouldn’t want to publish someone like this? And thankfully, six years later, Op Oloop is finally available to English readers.

Click here for the rest of the review.

26 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first time I heard of Juan Filloy was during an editorial trip to Germany, organized by the German Book Office and including a day of “speed dating” with other publishers. It was at one of my first “dates” that I met the very hip editors from Tropen Verlag who, after finding out that I worked at Dalkey Archive, the publisher of David Markson’s best works, suggested that instead of doing any of the German authors they might recommend, the one author that Dalkey absolutely had to publish was the Argentine writer Juan Filloy, especially his Op Oloop.

Before even getting to his actual novels, there’s a lot Filloy had going for him:

  • He lived in three centuries—born in the nineteenth, and passing away in 2000 at the age of 106;
  • Julio Cortazar loved him, and references his Caterva in chapter 108 of Hopscotch;
  • Filloy was a lover of palindromes and wrote over 6,000;
  • and, not to be overlooked, almost all fifty-plus of his novels and collections of poems have seven-letter titles. (Op Oloop, Caterva, Vil y Vil, so on and so forth.)

Who wouldn’t want to publish someone like this? And thankfully, six years later, Op Oloop is finally available to English readers. (Hopefully it won’t take another six years for Caterva to come out.)

The plot of Op Oloop is pretty simple: it chronicles the final day and night in the life of its titular character, Op Oloop, a Finnish transplant in Buenos Aires who is recently engaged to Franziska, the Finnish consul’s niece. As he likes to state, Op Oloop is a “man of method,” a statistician who lives his life in a very orderly, pre-arranged way.

Thus, Op Oloop was convinced yet again that it was simply impossible for him to act contrary to his nature. “SUNDAY: WRITING, BETWEEN 7:00 AND 10:00 A.M.” That was the rule. When life is as ordered as a mathematical equation, you can’t just skip a digit whenever you feel like it. Op Oloop was entirely incapable of any impromptu act that might violate the pre-established norms of his routine; even such a trivial, graphical set such as addressing an envelope he’d already begun while still within the allotted time.

It’s clear from the start that Op Oloop isn’t all there—his speech to the employees at his local spa about the need to unite on tipping and form a “Gratuity International” is proof enough—but on this particular day, things go from bad to worse, as Op’s “method” is thwarted and he can’t regain his sense of order.

Filloy’s protagonist is a step beyond eccentric, and Lisa Dillman’s ability to capture his peculiar speech, wordplay, and insanity is quite impressive. This is especially true in the lengthy section detailing Op Oloop’s special dinner with his friends (in preparation for him to sleep with his 1,000th prostitute—a situation that doesn’t go according to plan and is the final nail that breaks Op’s mind). This dinner is the section of the book that seems most Cortazar-like (Hopscotch is filthy with groups of characters bantering and making statements about Argentina and its people), although Filloy’s not quite as tight and witty and fluid as Cortazar (who is?).

“In Hollywood, everyone knows the caloric value of everything. Just as they all aspire unanimously to stardom, they’re all equally fanatical about being tres mince rather than overweight. Truly, there’s a veritable obsession with fat. Dieting forces them all to undertake endless calculations and combinations. All portions are measured on a basis of one-hundred-calorie units. For example, one hundred calories equals: a tablespoon of honey, or two mandarin oranges, or four dates, or twenty asparagus tips, or a quarter-inch thick steak measuring five inches long and two and a half inches wide . . .”

“So you must’ve gone round with tape measures, eyedroppers, and scales . . .”

“It’s not a joke. You know, I’ve noticed that Argentines in general tend to be quite sarcastic, yet they’re entirely lacking in humor deep down. They make fun of everything in particular, and yet as a nation are all unanimously dull. It’s truly incongruous!”

As the novel lurches from scene to scene, Filloy creates an interesting account of one man’s mental breakdown. With the exception of what happens at the whorehouse, most of the underlying motivations for his breakdown are mysterious, summed up by the idea that he’s “method personified.” A more conventional book would delve into this issue, maybe explain how the hell he ended up with Franziska in the first place, etc., etc., but this isn’t a conventional book. It’s a more daring, playful novel, that, while not perfect, is one of the most fun novels I’ve read this year. I only wish the graph of Op Oloop’s day that’s in the Spanish edition was also included in this galley.

27 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Our latest review is of Andres Barba’s Katia’s Sister, a novel which was published in Spain by Anagrama back in 2001.

Lisa Dillman—a translator from Spanish and Catalan and lecturer at Emory University who wrote the review—actually contacted me from the Guadalajara Book Fair with the news that Barba had won the Essay Prize from Anagrama for his most recent book The Porno Ceremony. So not only is the review interesting, it’s timely as well . . .

27 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

I came across Andrés Barba by chance one day in 2002, browsing at a Spanish bookstore. The book I stood perusing sounded intriguing: the story of an adolescent girl who lives in a Madrid apartment with her prostitute mother and stripper sister. Despite my interest in the story, however, the literary endeavor seemed not just improbable but almost risible. Here was a novel presenting the lives of several troubled women through the eyes of a less-than-savvy, fourteen-year old girl as written by a man – one who was just twenty-six years old. I bought it, I confess, to prove myself right: the protagonist’s voice could not possibly be convincing. Five years later I am still astounded by the heart-breaking tenderness and naked honesty of Barba’s prose.

Katia’s sister, the protagonist, is presented as achingly naive, and her almost saint-like innocence filters each of her observations, deflecting the horrors of the harsh world she inhabits. With utterly uncomplicated candor, she reinterprets prostitution, drug addiction, death and religion, and we are privy to all of her pre-moral reflections. Having quit school, Katia’s sister (who is never named) spends her days cleaning, watching nature shows on TV, and marveling at the tourists in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor who wear such bright colors, say such charming things. She comprises the sole affective bond in the family, the only selfless constant in her all-female clan (Mamá is often gone for days at a time; Katia works late at the strip club; grandmother’s Alzheimer’s is progressing daily). And her perspective is a redemptive one. Daily trials, whether transcendent, morbid, or run-of-the-mill, are all battled with an innocence that ultimately bathes everything in its glow, humanizing us all. At the start of the novel we read:

Mamá hadn’t been home for a week. Katia had just turned eighteen and she’d given her a pair of ladybug earrings that she hadn’t liked. Anyone could have seen it in her forced smile, her gesture of resignation when she asked her to put them on; but that night she went to bed happy in the knowledge that she’d given the perfect gift. Three days later she saw that Katia still hadn’t worn them, not even once. It didn’t trouble her, though. She remembered when she was eight and Mamá had given her a pink watch that she liked so much she didn’t dare put it on, for fear she might break it. She’d take it out at night, watch the second hand slowly caress the quarters of an hour, and then put it back in the same imperturbable case in which a year later it would stop ticking, and then in subsequent years gather dust, purging its sin of having been too beautiful. Maybe that’s why Katia hadn’t worn the earrings yet, because they were just too pretty.

At this point, we are left wondering: is her reaction a defense mechanism, or is she just not too bright? It’s not long, though, before we realize this is no act; the protagonist is not stupid, she’s simply incapable of feeling – or picking up on – malice, cruelty, or bitterness. In Katia’s sister’s world, people aren’t bad; they have concrete rationale for their actions. Their behavior can be explained by a phrase she hears her mother use frequently on the phone, “Men aren’t evil; they just want to get laid.”

Katia’s Sister is a remarkable first book from a very young writer who has gone on to prove his mettle in subsequent novels. This one was finalist for the 19th Herralde Prize in Spain, has been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Italian, and is currently being made into a film in Holland. Rafael Chirbes, one of Spain’s greatest living novelists, has called Barba’s prose “imprescindible”, often translated as “vital” though the urgency is more intense. His writing is “undowithoutable”.

Katia’s Sister
Andrés Barba
Anagrama, 2001

6 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen |

Last night, Open Letter hosted a panel entitled “Commerce and Culture: The Impact of the Business of Books on the Literature of the Americas.” Moderated by Chad Post, the panel featured Lisa Dillman, who translates from Spanish and Catalan and is a lecturer in Spanish at Emory University; Jack Kirchoff, the book review editor and paperbacks columnist at the Toronto Globe & Mail; Daniel Shapiro, director of literature at the Americas Society and editor of Review; and Jonathon Welch, co-founder and buyer at Talking Leaves Books.

It was a wide-ranging discussion, covering—as you can imagine by reading the brief bios above—the business of books, reviewing, translating, and bookselling.

If you’d like to listen to the panel, you can download the podcast by clicking here. (The file is 86MB and the discussion lasts about 90 minutes.)

....
Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >