14 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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

The entry below is by Lori Feathers, co-founder of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX.



War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 79%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 24%

Regretfully I became curious about what kind of man my grandfather had been, only after his death. I know his life episodically—a wedding, births, jobs, homes, accomplishments—and these milestones orient my fragmented memories of him. Unfortunately, his emotional life, the expectations and disappointments that colored his beliefs and actions, is a blank. Stefan Hertmans’s eloquent novel, War & Turpentine, speaks to this longing to understand.

Compelled by the approaching centennial of World War I, Hertmans immerses himself in the hundreds of pages of memoir that his grandfather, Urbain Martien, gave him years earlier, shortly before he died. Throughout his life Martien was impelled by a sense of duty—the duty to support his mother and siblings after his father died; the duty to fight in the trenches during WWI instead of becoming a professional artist; and the duty to marry the older sister of his fiancé, Maria Emilia, who fell victim to the Spanish flu. These are the episodes, so to speak, of Martien’s life. Hertmans takes his grandfather’s story and determines to “. . . rediscover it in my own way” by visiting the places that Martien writes about and the original masterpieces that he reproduced with his painting. Hertmans reimagines his grandfather’s life, shining a light on the strong emotions of a man who, in Hertmans’s memory, maintained an almost stoical countenance.

Although duty set the course for Martien the enduring passions that gave his life sustenance were painting and his love for Maria Emilia. Amid his “rediscovery” Hertmans uncovers the secretive way that Martien joined the two obsessions that sustained him. War & Turpentine is a sensitive and moving hymn to an ordinary man who each day faced “. . . the battle between the transcendent, which he yearned for, and the memory of death and destruction, which held him in its clutches.” It deserves the Best Translated Book Award because it expresses so well the bittersweet regret of coming to fully appreciate the depths of another, but reaching that point only after it’s too late.

6 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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

The entry below is by Lori Feathers, co-founder of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX.



Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 6%

In this dispiriting era of fake “news” it feels ironic to praise Javier Marías’s Thus Bad Begins, a novel centered around the idea that it is better to have been deceived and never know it than to learn that you are the victim of a deception.

Set in Madrid in 1980, Thus Bad Begins is narrated by Juan, twenty-three and the only child of absented diplomats who secure a job for him as personal assistant to Eduardo Muriel, a respected Spanish filmmaker. Most days Juan works at the Muriel’s home where it quickly becomes apparent that Eduardo deeply resents Beatriz, his wife. As Juan’s curiosity about the reasons for Eduardo’s animosity intensifies so too does his pity and desire for Beatriz. He begins eavesdropping on the couple’s conversations to discover what lies behind Eduardo’s inability to reciprocate his wife’s affection. At the same time, Eduardo tasks Juan to uncover a different secret—one related to a family friend’s rumored blackmail and political exploitation. In uncovering truths about the Muriel family and their circle Juan is confronted with moral ambiguities and for the first time his conviction in the infallible demarcation between wronged and wrongdoer is compromised.

A master storyteller, Marías braids Juan’s and Eduardo’s narratives into a taut loop in which Eduardo’s loves, hopes, heartbreaks, and disillusionments intersect and redouble Juan’s. Yet it is the brilliance of Marías’s writing and Margaret Jull Costa’s translation that makes this novel truly exceptional. And it is why Thus Bad Begins deserves this year’s Best Translated Book Award. Marías may be our only living author worthy to be called a successor to Henry James. His prose digs deeper than his character’s impressions, placing us inside Juan’s mind as his thoughts are formed and reformed by experience and emotion. This is writing that is nuanced and introspective yet somehow retains an ample lightness and natural feeling so that it never risks collapsing under its own weight. Marías’s sentences demand to be reread and savored.

For the title of his novel Marías took a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” It is an admonition to leave the ugly truths about the past, in the past; to not seek the truth because once known it can never be unknown. And it is the knowing that irrevocably changes everything.

12 October 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Lori Feathers, anAssistant Managing Editor at Asymptote, freelance book critic and member of the National Book Critics Circle. Follow her online @LoriFeathers. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

While it’s still very early days in the months-long process of reading and evaluating the hundreds of eligible fiction titles for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award, I’ve already made some discoveries that impressed me with compelling narratives and expressive writing that is skillfully sustained by very solid translations. In compiling this list I noticed a common theme: each of these books explores an extraordinary relationship, a bond that consumes and sometimes destroys those within it.



The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco (tr. Ann Goldstein)

In this gothic fable Baricco portrays a family that tries to avoid life’s pain and disappointment by hiding within a meticulously maintained, insular world of its own making. This bubble is threatened by the unexpected arrival of the young Bride, fiancé of the family’s only son. The young Bride assimilates herself into the family’s peculiar household but over time both she and the family are indelibly changed by their relationship. The family’s extravagant lifestyle and hedonistic rituals are described with sly humor and sumptuous detail. As in his prior novel, Silk, Baricco’s characters exude an erotic sensuality that feels honest and natural. This richly decadent prose is masterfully translated by Ann Goldstein. Baricco uses the elements of a fable to their best effect: with fantastic settings and situations Baricco addresses our very real and relatable reluctance to face the pain of loss and our own mortality.



A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (tr. Christina E. Kramer)

It would be difficult to find a relationship more foreign to most of us than that of conjoined twins. Dimkovska places us inside the mind and body of Zlata, joined at the head to her sister, Srebra, with exceptional detail and perspective. The girls’ physical and emotional entrapment to one another is made all the more difficult by their troubled, impoverished home life and the political and economic instability that rocks 1990s Macedonia. As the girls reach adulthood their situation becomes increasingly unbearable, and Dimkovska draws not-so-subtle parallels between the surgical separation of the twins and the rending of the former Yugoslavia. The writing is lyrical and beautifully perceptive, full of sensitivity and nuance for the girls’ affliction and the way that it controls their lives.



Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes (tr. Siân Reynolds)

Gloria, the forty-one year old protagonist of Despentes’s Bye Bye Blondie, is a force of nature: physically violent to herself and others, uninhibitedly honest, and devoid of self-control. Gloria reunites with her old boyfriend and fellow delinquent from teenage years, Eric, and they become entangled in a self-destructive, mid-life romance from which neither has the strength to escape. Despentes unabashedly refuses redemption for her protagonist, and she draws Gloria’s character so completely and authentically that this, along with the punchy momentum of the prose, results in a compulsively readable and exuberant novel.



About My Mother by Tahar Ben Jelloun (tr. Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman)

Ben Jelloun’s fictional memoir evokes a middle-aged man’s patient guardianship over the mental and physical deterioration of his beloved, dying mother. The novel explores memory, suggesting that for both the dying and their loved ones memories are the only refuge from the painful realities of death. The son’s feelings about his mother are expressed with a poignant beauty that contrasts sharply with the crude breakdown of his mother’s mind and body. At the same time, Ben Jelloun paces his narrative to artfully mirror the slow, laborious monotony of a natural, age-induced death.



The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas (tr. Michael Barnes and Torbjørn Støverud)

The bond between Mattis, a mentally handicapped man, and his older sister, Hege, is the focus of Vesaas’ 1957 novel set in a remote Norwegian farming village where the two share a home. In most ways Mattis’ actions and emotions are those of a child, and he is entirely dependent upon Hege both as a caregiver and only friend. When Hege becomes romantically involved with an itinerant worker Mattis is incapable of sharing Hege’s affections with another. The author portrays Mattis’ innocence and naïve wonder about the world with clean, spare writing that despite its straight forwardness (or perhaps because of it) eloquently carries a real depth of perception and emotion.

UPDATE: Not actually eligible for the award! Peter Owen brought this out in 2013, so it can’t actually win. But that shouldn’t stop you from buying a copy from Archipelago!



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann (tr. Michael Hoffman)

This fascinating, autobiographical novel is a husband’s account of his manipulative wife, their volatile marriage, and subsequent (but less than definitive) separation. Alexander possesses a passive nature and is quick to avoid confrontation. So when Ganna, a young admirer of his writing, proposes that they wed Alexander acquiesces. Although Alexander lacks any physical attraction for Ganna a sense of duty, feelings of pity, and her fawning admiration of his writing, keep him in the marriage despite their vicious arguments. Wasserman takes us inside the humiliations and inflicted pain of this unstable relationship. Not only do we understand the damage that this couple inflicts upon each other, we feel it, too, in writing that resonates with pitch-perfect tone in Michael Hoffman’s translation.

9 May 16 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of destruction. Gillian’s and Hubert’s struggles to understand the emotional basis of these incongruities provide dramatic tension in this taut and provocative novel.

Although Gillian survives an auto accident that kills her husband, the crash damages and permanently alters her face. As she convalesces, she recalls the weeks leading up to the accident, in particular her televised interview with Hubert, a local artist, and her post-interview request that he paint her portrait. Gillian shares with Hubert the hope that his painting of her will reveal truths to which she has been blind. All that she understands about herself is derivative of others’ impressions and reactions, and she longs for Hubert to interpret and reveal to her, her true self. Instead, Hubert soon becomes frustrated with his subject. “I don’t see anything in you. I’ll be pleased if I manage the exterior half decently,” he tetchily tells Gillian during a sitting. He accuses her of intentionally concealing her inner self, of “acting,” and of an unwillingness to reveal any vulnerability, an accusation that is not new to her.

With her post-accident convalescence complete, Gillian moves out of the city and relocates to a secluded mountain resort. No longer Gillian, she is simply known now as “Jill.” She seeks to refashion her life, far from the television cameras, cocktail parties, and celebrity status that constituted her existence. Yet in this new world Jill’s authentic self remains elusive. When Hubert re-enters her life, this time as an artist-in-residence at the resort, Gillian again looks to him and his art to “find” her. But now Hubert is undergoing his own crisis. He has lost creative inspiration and self-confidence as an artist, and after succumbing to an emotional collapse finds that he is now able to create art only through the slow work of destruction:

As a boy he had often whiled away the hours like this, had pulled one thread after another from a piece of rough cloth, or picked away at a rope until there were just thin fibers left, broken up a blossom or a fir twig into its constituent parts, hatched and crosshatched a piece of paper with pencil till it made a shiny even surface.

Hubert even negates his many, previous sketches of Gillian through intricate, penciled cross-hatchings that cover his earlier markings, making the underlying picture unrecognizable. And when Jill finds the drawings of her that Hubert has destroyed, she begins to do the same to the ones that Hubert left untouched:

She started covering one of the sketches with her own hatchings, the one of her kneeling on the bed with her hands behind her back, as though chained. The pencil was too hard, so she took another one. She deleted the picture, as though burying her unprotected body under a layer of graphite, making a fossil that no one would ever discover.

This purposeful destruction of the sketches symbolizes Gillian’s and Hubert’s separate, existential battles, and for each it marks a turning point to finally acknowledge the unvarnished, imperfect reality of who they are.

Michael Hoffman’s masterful translation retains the integrity of Stamm’s crystalline prose—precise, clean, and spare. While the writing is strong enough to keep the reader engaged, the novel’s plot, really a pair of character explorations, is not entirely satisfying. It is difficult to empathize with two people so very self-conscious and yet not at all self-aware. And the aimless drift of Gillian’s and Hubert’s lives resounds (perhaps intentionally) in the indecisive meter of the novel as though Stamm himself is unsure how to find a narrative resolution for his two muses—lost souls searching for the means to balance the created and the authentic.

18 December 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Lori Feathers on Monika Held’s This Place Holds No Fear, translated by Anne Posten and published by Haus Publishing.

Lori Feathers is a freelance book critic. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFeathers. (And Anne, if you’re reading this, THIS is why I gave you a weird “I THINK I MET YOU BEFORE BUT HOW” look at ALTA in Tuscon—I had just assigned your translation of this book for review, which explains why your name was so very fresh in my memory. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet you in person!)

Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses holding your newborn for the first time or meeting the woman who will become your wife? For Heiner it is the 224 weeks he endured as a political prisoner at Auschwitz. What marks Held’s novel as an important addition to the large body of historical fiction about the lives of camp survivors is her exploration of Heiner’s psychological need to embrace his Auschwitz experiences rather than struggling to repress or overcome them.

The narrative begins in the early 1980s and skips forward and backward across what Heiner calls his “three lives” relative to Auschwitz—before, there (which “lasted forever”), and after. Raised in Vienna, Heiner joins the communist party at a young age and later, after the Nazis occupy Austria, he is arrested on political grounds, sent to Auschwitz and labeled R.U.—“Return Unwanted.” At Auschwitz Heiner does not shield himself from the daily horrors inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners. He is determined to survive, to be a repository of the camp’s atrocities, and after the war to expose what he witnessed. Following the war Heiner fulfills the commitment he made to himself, publishing essays about survivors’ experiences and testifying as a witness at the Frankfurt-Auschwitz trials. But he never overcomes the guilt of not acting out, of failing to demonstrate his humanity by openly defying his captors at least one time during those years in captivity.

For the rest of the review, go here.

18 December 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses holding your newborn for the first time or meeting the woman who will become your wife? For Heiner it is the 224 weeks he endured as a political prisoner at Auschwitz. What marks Held’s novel as an important addition to the large body of historical fiction about the lives of camp survivors is her exploration of Heiner’s psychological need to embrace his Auschwitz experiences rather than struggling to repress or overcome them.

The narrative begins in the early 1980s and skips forward and backward across what Heiner calls his “three lives” relative to Auschwitz—before, there (which “lasted forever”), and after. Raised in Vienna, Heiner joins the communist party at a young age and later, after the Nazis occupy Austria, he is arrested on political grounds, sent to Auschwitz and labeled R.U.—“Return Unwanted.” At Auschwitz Heiner does not shield himself from the daily horrors inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners. He is determined to survive, to be a repository of the camp’s atrocities, and after the war to expose what he witnessed. Following the war Heiner fulfills the commitment he made to himself, publishing essays about survivors’ experiences and testifying as a witness at the Frankfurt-Auschwitz trials. But he never overcomes the guilt of not acting out, of failing to demonstrate his humanity by openly defying his captors at least one time during those years in captivity. The camp’s constant press on his consciousness, however, is more than survivor’s guilt. Heiner writes to a former prison-mate:

You seem to have made a proper grave for our past, a grave that you can visit, care for, and then leave. You commute between then and now, while I, to carry the metaphor further, walk around arm in arm with a ghost that I frighten people with. I can’t find a grave for this ghost, and, to be honest, I don’t actually want to bury it.

Heiner’s time in the camp is his identity, a painful legacy that constantly torments, but one that he cherishes. That time is inextricable from his person, at once a cancer that consumes his peace of mind and the source of his life’s meaning and purpose.

Heiner’s wife, Lena, is hurt by his preference for the past. “Pain forms a stronger bond than joy,” Lena comes to believe. She tries to create a quiet existence for Heiner and their life together as an antidote to the emotional and physical trauma that he endured. But Heiner needs his past more than he needs Lena, and she is jealous of his memories. She can recite by heart all of the details of Heiner’s and his friends’ oft-repeated stories of life at Auschwitz, but she will always remain outside, able to empathize but incapable of belonging to the experiences that Heiner has placed in the center of his life. Heiner suffers vocally, persistently; as a consequence Lena, too, suffers, but in silence. The author evokes the stress of this implacable situation on Lena and the marriage in finely felt descriptions that, under Posten’s artful translation, reveal Held’s unpretentious and confident writing. And although the novel’s content is heartbreaking Held never exploits her readers’ emotions with language that is overwrought or designed to shock.

In the novel’s last section Heiner and Lena have moved to a small, North Sea village on the recommendation of Heiner’s doctor. Suspecting that one of the villagers, a recluse, is a former SS officer, Heiner feels compelled to confess to him the guilty feelings he carries regarding his passivity at Auschwitz. It is a poignant coda to Heiner’s life that, forty-five years after the war’s end, the demarcation between victim and perpetrator has become less, not more clear to him.

7 October 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Lori Feathers on Dinner by César Aira, translated by Katherine Silver and out from New Directions.

The first time I read César Aira was four years ago: Ghosts and The Literary Conference. At the time I had my opinions about both, but in retrospect—and this surprises me—I actually liked both books very much (four years ago I had a lot of issues with Ghosts, but I was also sleeping erratic, graduate student hours and living off of discounted Cliff Bars and anything cheap vegetable you could sauté and roll into a tortilla, so let’s just assume that I didn’t have enough nutrients in my body to understand). And to be honest, I was half way through Lori’s review, thinking, “What the hell kind of book is this?!”, and then my eyes jumped to the top of the page to double-check who the author was. It was Aira. Which, of course! Of course. Now this all makes sense. I think that’s a great way to remind yourself of certain authors (note: I don’t say to think of certain authors). For example, Chuck Palahnuik’s writing is weird, disturbing, fast-paced, and will probably give you meat-sweats within your nightmares. Aira, as another example, has a quirkiness to his content (sometimes aggressively so, other times very understatedly) that, years later, makes me think fondly on his works, and on the subsequent discussions we had in class about his works. Which (making a huge but relevant jump here) is more proof that literature is a gift that keeps on giving. And I’m glad to have Aira’s works in my memory bank for that purpose. I’m also glad to continually have more Aira to experience—so thank you both to our friends at New Directions for that, and to super-translator Katherine Silver for her excellent work.

Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with his mother in his childhood home, in debt, jobless, never married, overly critical of others—who somehow still manages to win our affection with his wry pathos.

The dinner of the novella’s title is at the home of the narrator’s unnamed friend (“the last friend I had”) where the narrator and his elderly mother are the only guests. The friend keeps Mama entertained during dinner with gossipy stories about the families in the town of Pringles, and the two are “perfectly in sync” with their back-and-forth name-dropping. The narrator does not participate in their exchange. He has never attempted to remember the names of Pringles’ residents and considers such refusal his “. . . way of rejecting the life of the town where I had, nonetheless, spent my entire life. . . .” The evening takes a creepy turn after the meal when the friend shows-off some of the mechanical dolls and other fantastical toys that he collects. The dim lighting in the friend’s home, along with the dolls’ strange, mechanical movements and disturbing countenances bring an unsettling ambience to the evening’s end.

For the rest of the review, go here

7 October 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with his mother in his childhood home, in debt, jobless, never married, overly critical of others—who somehow still manages to win our affection with his wry pathos.

The dinner of the novella’s title is at the home of the narrator’s unnamed friend (“the last friend I had”) where the narrator and his elderly mother are the only guests. The friend keeps Mama entertained during dinner with gossipy stories about the families in the town of Pringles, and the two are “perfectly in sync” with their back-and-forth name-dropping. The narrator does not participate in their exchange. He has never attempted to remember the names of Pringles’ residents and considers such refusal his “. . . way of rejecting the life of the town where I had, nonetheless, spent my entire life. . . .” The evening takes a creepy turn after the meal when the friend shows-off some of the mechanical dolls and other fantastical toys that he collects. The dim lighting in the friend’s home, along with the dolls’ strange, mechanical movements and disturbing countenances bring an unsettling ambience to the evening’s end.

At home, after Mama putters off to bed for the night, the narrator turns on the television and happens to catch a program reporting from the local cemetery where the dead are rising from their graves and moving en mass through the town, sucking human endorphins from the brains of the living. As the narrator watches the unfolding crisis, images of the friend’s toys and snippets of his stories, dreamlike, merge with the television coverage. The town’s certain destruction is averted only when a little, old lady unwittingly discovers that the dead will return to their graves if they hear their names:

It came to her from the depth of her being, independent of any mental process, it came to her from the substrata of life in Pringles, from the erudition of many years and a lifelong passionate interest in the lives of others, which in small towns is equivalent to life itself. What came to her was his name.

Despite its entertaining and fantastical premise, Dinner, never strays from Aira’s theme: the very human need to have others to take an interest in who we are. Our names situate us within the genealogy and history of our community and bring organization to the multitude of relationships that exist. And it is in this continual process of orientation that identity and belonging are validated. That is why Pringles’ dead (and living too, for that matter) need to be remembered and acknowledged. Although the narrator is able to recognize nearly all of Pringles’ residents when he passes them on the street, he sees them only in shadow, not as fully realized, unique individuals with their own strengths and vulnerabilities, aspirations and fears. And in his selfish refusal to identify, to connect, the narrator gradually extinguishes his own humanity, his compassion, his ability to empathize. As the friend tells him,

You have to know how to see beyond the interests of survival and make the decision to give something to the world, because only those who give, receive.

How wonderful it would be if every difficult life lesson could come gift-wrapped in a thoughtful and amusing tale from Mr. Aira!

8 July 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Lori Feathers on Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau, translated by Justin Vicari and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

Now that the Women’s World Cup of Literature is nearing the final results, we’re resuming a less competitive path for reviews. Here’s the beginning of Lori’s:

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous condition. Vasseur’s friends and acquaintances provide the material for his journal entries and they, like their respective stories, are connected only loosely—the characters through their relationships with Vasseur and his coterie; the stories in their common theme of man’s cruelty and injustice toward his fellow man.

For Vasseur the picturesque resort town in the Pyrenées does not offer the sensory calm prescribed by his doctor. Instead, when Vasseur looks out at the mountains he sees a foreboding presence, an enclosure that oppresses and suppresses, that draws to it discouragement and despair. An acquaintance tells Vasseur that landscapes are states of mind, and as Vasseur immerses himself (and us) in stories involving madness, dishonesty, and acts of despotism against the weak and poor, the shadows cast by the mountains weigh disturbingly upon Vasseur’s mind and his accumulating journal entries become darker by the day.

Go here to read the rest of the review.

8 July 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous condition. Vasseur’s friends and acquaintances provide the material for his journal entries and they, like their respective stories, are connected only loosely—the characters through their relationships with Vasseur and his coterie; the stories in their common theme of man’s cruelty and injustice toward his fellow man.

For Vasseur the picturesque resort town in the Pyrenées does not offer the sensory calm prescribed by his doctor. Instead, when Vasseur looks out at the mountains he sees a foreboding presence, an enclosure that oppresses and suppresses, that draws to it discouragement and despair. An acquaintance tells Vasseur that landscapes are states of mind, and as Vasseur immerses himself (and us) in stories involving madness, dishonesty, and acts of despotism against the weak and poor, the shadows cast by the mountains weigh disturbingly upon Vasseur’s mind and his accumulating journal entries become darker by the day.

From time to time Mirbeau leavens the heaviness of Twenty-One Days: a few of the stories are light and humorous; one or two others strain credulity to the point of absurdity. Mirbeau obviously has fun naming his characters, and with some—Dr. Triceps, Madame de Parabola, Clara Fistula, Jean-Jules-Joseph Lagoffin—his wit rivals that of Charles Dickens.

Mirbeau, in addition to being a successful, turn-of-the century playwright, travel writer and art critic, wrote a handful of well-regarded novels, and Twenty-One Days is considered one of his unconventional works. Conventional or not, Twenty-One Days leaves the reader unsatisfied. Vasseur is an empty vessel, a protagonist who does little more than make a written account of the many stories told to him. Most often he plays no role in these accounts, nor does he engage with his raconteurs in meaningful discussions about them. Instead, Vasseur is like the master of ceremonies in a long variety show in which each act is a bit different from the last, but when strung together, the performances soon feel redundant, lacking in nuance and meaning.

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not without merit. Mirbeau’s prose style is pleasurable, never a chore to read, and his artistry with the written word is evident in Mr. Vicari’s skillful translation. And as a critique of his times it is fun to see Mirabeau poke at many of the pillars of French society—government, military, the bourgeois, artists, corporations, the medical and legal professions—and (as with other of his writings) the great controversy of his time, the Dreyfus affair. Who could quarrel with Mirbeau’s moral that it is man’s lack of compassion and justice that makes his surroundings feel possessed of a menacing mien and that darkens the mind and spirit of humanity?

8 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match, the first of the tournament, was judged by Lori Feathers, a freelance critic and Vice President of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriFeathers.

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page. And check back here daily!

I cannot think of a better way to kick-off the Women’s World Cup of Literature than a match-up between these two impressive novels: Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night by Léonora Miano and Switzerland’s With the Animals by Noëlle Revaz.

While in many respects these two novels are as different as the two countries from which they come, reading them in close succession reveals a common theme—what happens when an insular, primitive people are confronted with progressive thoughts and ideas from the outside.

With the Animals is the story of Paul and his wife Vulvia (or “Vulva” (!) as she is called) who live with their six children on the family farm in the French-speaking countryside of Switzerland. Paul is nothing short of crude in his relations with his wife and children. He devotes his life to running the farm and demands work, obedience, and docility from his family, along with occasional sex from Vulva. His behavior towards his children fluctuates between harsh discipline and total indifference, and he feels no remorse about delivering daily blows to both Vulva and the kids. Paul hires a summer farmhand from Portugal, Jorge, who comes to live on the farm and in many respects becomes more of a husband and father to Paul’s wife and children than Paul himself. Jorge (or Georges as Paul calls him) does things that Paul would never do like engaging in conversations with Vulva, teaching the kids, and cooking meals when Vulva is ill.

Paul’s voice, one that will stay with me for a long time, is coarse with distain, paranoia and misogyny and only rarely is it softened by the tender feelings he reserves for his cows and the memory of his deceased father. It is a credit to both Ms. Revaz and translator W. Donald Wilson that Paul always feels original and authentic, never a caricature.

Dark Heart of the Night takes place amongst the Bantu tribe in southern Cameroon. The tribe is locked in the vice of tradition and attitudes that elevate survival of the tribe above all else. Ayané is the daughter of a deceased tribesman and a “foreign” woman from a neighboring village. Neither Ayané nor her mother were ever accepted by the tribe but because both are considered witches they were tolerated even after the death of Ayané’s father for fear that they might cast an evil spell on the tribe. Ayané was always treated differently from the other children in the tribe; her parents sent her away to be educated and she eventually enrolled in college in Paris.

During Ayané’s return to care for her dying mother the tribe is overtaken by rebels seeking young men to recruit for a violent overthrow of the government. Ayané witnesses with incomprehension the docility and fatalism of the tribal members in the face of killings and other brutal acts by the rebels against the tribe’s members, including its children. She struggles to reconcile her relationship to the tribe and to come to terms with what the tribe means for her self-identity. Ayané has spent most of her life rejecting and being rejected by, the tribe. And with her mother’s death she can leave the tribe behind, forever. But for the first time she feels the need to belong, to identify with something larger than herself. Ayané’s inner conflict between her tribal and cosmopolitan “selves” forces her to question her Western ideas about the intrinsic nature of morality and reconsider whether the tribe’s actions when faced with the rebels’ brutality, were immoral. It is in looking at this conflict between Western and tribal ideas of morality that Ms. Miano’s novel excels.

I really admired both of these books and hate to see either eliminated but, as they say, the games must go on! With a tied score of 1-1, Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night squeaks-by to defeat Switzerland’s With the Animals by a penalty kick.

*

Next up, Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night will face off against either Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Japan) or Beyond the Islands by Alicia Yánez Cossío (Ecuador) on Wednesday, June 24th. Tomorrow’s match is one of the most anticipated, with France’s Apocalypse Baby squaring off against Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft.

2 May 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Lori Feathers is a freelance critic and Vice President of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing.



Baboon – Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman, Denmark
Two Lines Press

Baboon should win this year’s Best Translated Book Award because page-for-page it offers more surprises and excitement than any other book in the BTBA. Aidt writes like a sexed-up Flannery O’Connor. Her stories are fresh, daring and almost always unpredictable. Like O’Connor Aidt places her characters in ordinary situations and beneath the patina of comfortable domesticity we find, to our delight, the perverse and disturbing.

Along with plots that astonish, Aidt keeps readers off balance by using gender-neutral pronouns to deliberately obscure characters’ relationships to each other and defy our expectations as to how they will interact — most often in ways that are a great deal nastier than we can imagine.

But it is with her descriptions of the inconsequential that the most lasting impressions are created: a baby’s green, lollipop-stained mouth; an uncooked chicken, the habitual manner in which a woman moves her hand, the fat, falling flakes inside a child’s snow globe. The mundane becomes extraordinary when it succumbs to the scrutiny of Aidt’s perceptive eye:

I like watching people. And this woman is remarkable. She’s nearly bald. Her head must’ve been shaved fairly recently because there’s just a fine dark shadow of hair. She drinks carefully out of a small glass, something strong, maybe cognac, or whiskey, I can’t tell from here. There’s something about her that reminds me of a young animal, perhaps a deer, the same watchful nervousness. She’s wearing a suit that’s both elegant and a little too large. It’s grayish-green, brownish, like mud and dried grass. I have a sudden urge to touch her neck. A flood of images runs through my head: I think about the canvas sacks, about my childhood, about the soldiers’ uniforms, and my mother, who, much later, is standing in front of our house outside of Leipzig. It’s plastered with thick mortar and has that color so common for East German houses: grayish-green, brownish. My mother is smiling. She’s wearing a red dress.

A poignant portraiture like this displays Aidt’s talent even more than the astounding scenarios that she creates for her stories.

To read Baboon is to bear witness to the unraveling of otherwise complacent lives; an unsettling experience made all the more so in the short story format, which withholds the context necessary for the reader to anticipate what will happen next. And this is a large part of the fun. But Aidt also asks us to consider whether, like us, her characters are justified in being caught off-guard or if, as one character puts it, …she’s spent far too many years down in the dark, where all that’s revealed is a fraction of what there is.

6 April 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Lori Feathers on Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, and published by New York Review Books.

Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband. Tristana desires independence and freedom, and she possesses the intelligence and ambition to pursue it were it not for circumstances and misfortunes that conspire in forcing her to bend to the expectations of her time.

The novel is built upon a love triangle—the twenty-one year old Tristana; her lover, the young painter Horacio; and Don Lope, Tristana’s benefactor who takes her in, alone and penniless, following the death of her parents. Although Tristana’s growing self-awareness and consequent actions propel the course of the story Tristana is an exceptional novel because of the enigmatic Don Lope.

For the rest of the review, go here.

6 April 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband. Tristana desires independence and freedom, and she possesses the intelligence and ambition to pursue it were it not for circumstances and misfortunes that conspire in forcing her to bend to the expectations of her time.

The novel is built upon a love triangle—the twenty-one year old Tristana; her lover, the young painter Horacio; and Don Lope, Tristana’s benefactor who takes her in, alone and penniless, following the death of her parents. Although Tristana’s growing self-awareness and consequent actions propel the course of the story Tristana is an exceptional novel because of the enigmatic Don Lope.

Don Lope is fifty-seven years old, a life-long bachelor, and a notorious rake. Gentleman seducers in literature are plentiful, and Don Lope is that but also much more. Galdós’s creation feels original, not simply a typical “Don Juan” to whom virtuous women fall victim. Don Lope is a consummate gentleman who upholds old-world chivalry, honor, and decorum to the highest degree. When it comes to satisfying his sexual appetites, however, a different code of conduct applies, but one that, to Don Lope’s mind, is still wholly appropriate. Don Lope’s conquests are many and famously include nuns and women of otherwise inviolable virtue. The innocent Tristana becomes one more victim, and Don Lope feels no guilt, no discomfort in being both “father” and “husband” to Tristana. Don Lope’s understanding of respectable conduct is not ambiguous, but rather patently contradictory, and in Don Lope these contradictions cohabitate peacefully. While maintaining his chivalrous demeanor he feels justified in considering Tristana his chattel, compensation for his promise to her mother that he will be her guardian.

His extraordinary beliefs extend to behaviors that would seem at cross-purposes: he is jealous of Tristana’s feelings for Horacio and simultaneously develops a true and lasting friendship with Horacio; he is extremely vain but he spends what little money he can gather not on new clothes but on paints, music instruction and other things to facilitate Tristana’s vocations; he admires Tristana’s intelligence and ambition and denigrates her desires as childish. Don Lope is an example of what the twentieth century writer and memoirist Sergio Pitol described as Galdós’s gift for showing that “. . . the quotidian and the delirious, the tragic and the grotesque, do not have to be different sides of a coin, rather they are able to be a single fully integrated entity.” (The Art of Flight, trans. George Henson, Deep Vellum 2015).

Beyond domesticity, Tristana’s choices, so limited at the outset, are further circumscribed by fate. Like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina before her Tristana gets caught up in the colliding forces of early feminist ambition and old-world strictures. While this conflict is present in many works of nineteenth century literature Galdós looks beyond the opposing forces to reveal the practical, that is the accommodations that disallow the ideal but make space for living the life that you are dealt.

15 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Lori Feathers on Marie NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green, translated by Jordan Stump, and out from Two Lines Press.

Lori is an attorney who lives in Dallas, Texas, and is a member of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing in Dallas.

Hope everyone is having a great start to 2015. We sure are! Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships. In particular, NDiaye conveys a powerful message about the unconscious vulnerabilities that cause women to undermine healthy relationships with each other, and in doing so she solidifies her place as a unique voice in feminist literature.

For the rest of the review, go here.

15 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships. In particular, NDiaye conveys a powerful message about the unconscious vulnerabilities that cause women to undermine healthy relationships with each other, and in doing so she solidifies her place as a unique voice in feminist literature.

The story’s unnamed narrator, a female French novelist of West African heritage, is based on Marie NDiaye. “Marie” perceives that certain females in her life are “women in green”—disorienting, elusive, unpredictable, and destructive. Among these are her mother, her former schoolteacher, and certain friends and acquaintances. Sometimes the women are, literally, green—they wear green clothes, hide behind trees or have green eyes. With others, the visual association is unnecessary—they are “green” simply because of the negative feelings that they evoke in Marie.

Marie’s voice is wonderfully unsettling and original. Her disturbed state of mind is apparent from the very first pages. Her anxieties override rational thought and, in this confused state of mind, the women in her life bear the brunt of her insecurities. NDiaye’s use of the color green as an instrument to visualize Marie’s vilification of women is smart and effective. She relates how the tendency to demonize other women erodes Marie’s own self-worth and cripples her other relationships, namely with her father and siblings.

Marie is the most unreliable of narrators, and NDiaye employs her own brand of magic realism to describe Marie’s reality, a style that she also uses in the first novella of her later book, Three Strong Women. In both works the female protagonists exist in hyper-sensory states, and their heightened senses create emotional reflexes that, without exception, are negative and cause harm. Both novellas also demonstrate NDiaye’s clever use of symbolism, which provides additional dimension and depth to her prose.

In the final pages of the book Marie becomes convinced that it is her destiny to become a woman in green—the personification of her fears and insecurities. She succumbs to the inertia of remaining in the destructive cycle that her mind has created, incapable of the necessary self-reflection to acknowledge that the evil that she sees in others is merely a misapplication of her own weaknesses.

1 October 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a by Lori Feathers on Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé, translated by Ros Schwartz and published by Seagull Books.

Lori helped us out in the World Cup of Literature round for the U.S. vs. Belgium, and is also a member of the Board of Dallas-based Deep Vellum Publishing.

Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that contemplates what it means to accept your past.

It is 2010. Kamal Jann, a successful, middle-aged lawyer and human rights activist, lives in New York City. He is tormented by the horrors that he suffered at the hands of his uncle, Sayf, the powerful head of Syria’s intelligence services. Sayf began sexually molesting Kamal when the boy was twelve years old, and three years later, Sayf ordered the murders of Kamal’s mother and father (the latter of whom was Sayf’s only sibling). Kamal’s hatred for his uncle is compounded by the fact that he later allows Sayf to sponsor his college and law school education in the United States. Murad, Kamal’s brother, remains in Syria and becomes radicalized, eventually agreeing to become a martyr in a suicide bombing intended to kill the Syrian president. Kamal learns of Murad’s intentions and travels back to Syria in an attempt to save his brother and, at the same time, avenge the murders of his parents.

For the rest of the piece, go here.

1 October 14 | Kaija Straumanis |

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that contemplates what it means to accept your past.

It is 2010. Kamal Jann, a successful, middle-aged lawyer and human rights activist, lives in New York City. He is tormented by the horrors that he suffered at the hands of his uncle, Sayf, the powerful head of Syria’s intelligence services. Sayf began sexually molesting Kamal when the boy was twelve years old, and three years later, Sayf ordered the murders of Kamal’s mother and father (the latter of whom was Sayf’s only sibling). Kamal’s hatred for his uncle is compounded by the fact that he later allows Sayf to sponsor his college and law school education in the United States. Murad, Kamal’s brother, remains in Syria and becomes radicalized, eventually agreeing to become a martyr in a suicide bombing intended to kill the Syrian president. Kamal learns of Murad’s intentions and travels back to Syria in an attempt to save his brother and, at the same time, avenge the murders of his parents.

The fraught politics of the Middle East pervade Eddé’s novel, with the dysfunctional relationship between Lebanon and Syria taking center stage. CIA operatives and European experts machinate with Arab business, political and religious leaders, each trying to advance their respective agendas while at the same time facilitating discord and balkanization among Arabs, Palestinians, and Islamists.

The novel’s large cast of diverse, female characters are drawn with rich detail, and perhaps the most entertaining parts of the book concern two women in particular, the American Kate Man and the Lebanese Sitt Soussou. Kate is a married, Manhattan socialite who is in love with Kamal. An aesthete who makes supreme and constant efforts to surround herself with the most fashionable artists and intellectuals, Kate’s purpose consists largely to serve as a reflection for the tastes and opinions of those around her. Kate speaks with a stammer, perhaps a handicap, but more likely an affectation:

She wants to be certain, before speaking, that she has protected herself from what she does not know. Her oh, oh, more or less equals the time it takes her to check. When she speaks, time no longer counts. Her continuous bass drone enjoys an unlimited entitlement to signs, hesitation and pauses. It is like at the opera—the meaning of the words, essential as it may be, is utterly secondary. It is her tone that speaks—an anxious, panicked tone, but always demanding, superior.

Although her superficiality might appear harmless, her obsession with Kamal leads her to cunning tactics in an effort to obtain his affections and displace the woman he loves.

The ninety-year-old Sitt Soussou possesses all of the self-confidence that Kate lacks. She is regarded as a “historical monument” in both her native Beirut and in Damascus, and her counsel is valued by her son-in-law, Sayf. She and Sayf both possess a ruthless solidity when it comes to political expediency and self-preservation. Sitt Soussou doesn’t hold her tongue, and her witticisms, which really come alive under Ros Schwartz’s skillful translation, are some of the most entertaining parts of the novel:

When the deceased is someone important, people come back two or three times. Didn’t you hear all the people who said “see you tomorrow” as they left? There’s nothing better than a death for bringing together the living. You have to make an effort, go back again, insist. That’s why three visits are better than one. But unlike condolence visits which are clear and precise—everyone knows their place—visits to the sick are painful, unbearable. You inconvenience people, you inconvenience yourself, you don’t know when is the right time to visit, you don’t know when to leave. Not to mention the fact that the sick person gets used to your visits, “You do me good, come back and see me,” etc. Oh no, none of that! I like people who ask nothing of me. The dead don’t ask anything. Then it’s a pleasure to go back.

The novel’s denouement occurs during a dinner party hosted by Kamal, and this baggy, overly-long scene is one of this novel’s very few weak parts. Additionally, in a book populated by so many characters, the fortune teller La Bardolina and a few others feel like “extras,” adding little to the story.

In Kamal Jann the struggle for control is an overarching theme: Sayf, a man with seeming limitless power, cannot control his political fate; Kate is unable to make Kamal love her; and, no single country or faction is able to dictate its political solution for the Middle East. For Kamal, whose consuming rage and need to avenge Sayf’s crimes ultimately push him to the breaking point, it is only when he acknowledges that he cannot control the past that his descent into madness is arrested. Umm Assem, the Syrian woman who raised the orphaned Kamal and Murad, tells the story of the eagle that flew above its shadow, and thinking its shadow was prey, tried to capture it. She tells Kamal that the shadow cannot be possessed. And, as Kamal struggles to accept, neither can his past.

3 July 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Lori Feathers. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

Conventional wisdom pronounced that Team USA would face a quick death in this year’s World Cup: drawing into the “group of death”; no superstar players; Coach Klinsmann’s pessimistic prognosis of his team’s chances. But Team USA survived (just barely) to advance to the “knock-out” stage and so too, The Pale King to face-off Belgium’s, The Misfortunates.

A few years after his death and much later than really serious readers of contemporary American literature, I read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I had mixed feelings before starting. I’ve always loved fat, dense novels—tomes of 700 plus pages are, by their very nature, projects, commitments, not something that you undertake on a whim and works that challenge your perseverance. But, experimental fiction left me cold—the effort to do something different (dare I say novel?) was too apparent, overwhelming the characters and the story. When I reached the last of its 980 pages (plus 95 pages of (very small print) endnotes), I admired Infinite Jest. I did not always enjoy reading Infinite Jest. And in any case, I was certain that I had read enough DFW to last my lifetime. Then I drew The Pale King in the 2014 World Cup of Literature . . .

On its face The Pale King is about the Internal Revenue Service and a bureaucratic snafu that creates a case of mistaken identity between two IRS employees named David F. Wallace. The characters orbit a back-story involving the mismanagement of tax returns and an IRS regional processing center’s bungled cover-up. (I don’t think that Lois Lerner read The Pale King.) But do not read The Pale King if you are looking for a novel with a strong plot. What you will find are fully drawn characters who feel alive and true, with their various neuroses, skin conditions, glandular disorders, and hardship enduring the consistent drudgery of the Service. These people (mostly men) are boring. Their work is boring. And DFW’s slow, granular descriptions, use of repetition and bureaucrat-speak make the tedium of their lives palpable. The labyrinthine IRS procedures and protocols depicted are absurd. But for these “anti-actors” adherence to them is a test of will, even heroic. Weak will is failure.

I worked for a number of years as a GS-9 and GS-11 (I never got to ride in a government repossessed Gremlin), and as I recall, my federal agency was less grim and more sensible than that depicted in the pages of The Pale King. But when your topic is the IRS, artistic license allows, even demands, some exaggeration. And this is a funny book. The Pale King is every bit as brilliant as Infinite Jest but its focus is the mendacity of office work, a world more familiar than Quebec separatists, elite tennis academies, and movies that inflict mind controlling paralysis and death on unsuspecting viewers. And, this, I think, makes it a better book.

And the writing is great: immediate, but not urgent; technical, but accessible; overly descriptive, but entertaining. All of the opposing elements combine to create something extraordinary, like eating something that is both sweet and salty. Obviously The Pale King could (should) have been written with more economy, but the effect would have been diminished. The time and attention given to the characters’ emotions, impressions and thoughts made them mine, as well. Self-doubt, pride, paranoia, hubris and many of the feelings that equate to being human, are acutely felt.

The Misfortunates is a collection of short stories about a very poor, beer-addled family in a small Flemish town, a place that I imagine as similar to the Appalachian village (yes was and still is today, officially, a “village”) where I grew up. Only in Arsendegem, the beer has to be better than Schaefer Light!

The book’s eponymous narrator, Dimitri Verhulst, shares a dozen or so tales from his childhood and early adulthood: misadventures about town, all involving mind-boggling amounts of alcohol, mostly beer. The Verhulst’s are very poor, and when the men of the house take up work from time to time, it is for the single purpose of paying-up their tab at the local pub. Dima’s mother abandons him to his grandmother, father and uncles when he is only ten. Despite the poverty, motherless childhood, and general, non-malicious neglect, Dima’s life is not particularly sad, and his story does not follow the well-trod path of an alcoholic father begetting a damaged son. Instead, Dima is loved by his grandmother and her brood of four sons—he is “our Kid,” and this brings cohesion and a weird normalcy to Dima’s life. It’s refreshing when we see Dima at the end of the book, mostly sober, mostly stable and with a woman that he really loves. The Misfortunates and The Pale King both are very funny. In The Misfortunates, the laughs are copious and frequently ribald, and translator David Colmer deserves kudos for translating Danish humor into sharp, colloquial English. (By contrast, The Pale King’s humor is dry and requires the reader to excavate the text (including the footnotes) carefully in order not to miss some of the funniest bits.) The Misfortunates is good fun, and I encourage you to read it (preferably over a beer or two). I look forward to reading more from Verhulst.

Final score: USA 3 – Belgium 1

The Misfortunates scored some fast, hard laughs, but The Pale King kicked it na gaveta with the undeniable talent of DFW whose fiction reshaped what American literature is and what it can be. Maybe Team USA can do the same for US soccer.

——

Lori Feathers is an attorney who lives in Dallas, Texas with her two, fat English bulldogs and (not-fat) boyfriend. She is a member of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing in Dallas.

——

Did The Pale King Deserve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


....
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