Next month we’ll be reissuing The Guinea Pigs by Ludvik Vaculik, a Czech modern classic featuring one of the most memorably odd narrators ever. His sort of befuddled meandering through life (not understanding the strange situation going on at the bank where he works, berated a kid that he mistakes for his son, etc.) is funny in and of itself, but it’s the spectacularly peculiar word choices and phrasings that really make this book sing.
Here’s an example from the opening paragraph:
There are more than a million people living in the city of Prague whom I’d just as soon not name here. Our family is originally from the country. Our family, that means me, my wife, and two tolerable little boys.
(It’s that “tolerable” that’s so fantastic.)
As the story progresses and the reader gets more and more attuned to the quirks and clicks of the narrator’s voice, the funnier this gets. Even when our friendly narrator is doing very odd things to innocent guinea pigs . . .
Anyway, to share our love of this book with the rest of the world, we decided to give away 10 copies via GoodReads. So if you’re a member, be sure to click this handy little widget below to be entered into the drawing.
OK, so I didn’t get to writing up all the things I wanted to this week, but before taking off for Amsterdam and the Non-Fiction Conference (see next post), I thought I’d share our Summer 2011 catalog.
With a little luck, I’ll highlight each of these next week, with excerpts and the like, but for now, here’s a list of all five titles along with links to their Open Letter pages, where you can find cover images, jacket copy, links to excerpts, author bios, etc., etc.
Excellent collection of Monzo’s stories, and the second book of his that we’re publishing. Next up: 1000 Morons.
This is the first of three Chejfec titles we’re publishing, the other two being The Dark and The Planets. First came across Chejfec in a post by Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading linking to a recommendation at Hermano Cerdo written by Enrique Vila-Matas about how totally awesome this book is. (Or some similar Spanish phrasing.) We then went on to buy the rights to all three books thanks to a brilliant excerpt that was in BOMB magazine.
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And the second Open Letter book in which guinea pigs are subjected to uncool things. I get the strangest reaction from friends when I try and describe just how funny the narrator’s guinea pig “experiments” are. Like the one with the record player. Or the stove. Or the bathtub. . . . Um, yeah. But seriously, it’s hysterical—mainly because of the voice of the befuddled, clueless narrator. And we have some awesome promotions in mind for this . . . none of which involve the harming of physical, living guinea pigs. Promise.
This new collection by Can Xue (who has also been published by New Directions, Northwestern, Yale, and Conjunctions) is the first Chinese title to come out from Open Letter. She’s a very interesting, unique writer who reminds me a bit of Rikki Ducornet. The stories are a bit surreal, surprising, and, at time, disorienting in a very pleasurable way.
We published Winterbach’s To Hell with Cronje last fall to some good attention. She’s a stark, interesting South African writer, and in the end, I think Book of Happenstance is an even better book than Cronje . . .
More all next week . . .
The Guardian had a short overview of the life and work of Ivan Klima (Love and Garbage, Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light, too many others to mention) this weekend:
Incredibly, he returned to Prague after the 1968 uprising was put down:
Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. “I organised a reading the week after we got back,” he says. “I invited about 45 guests, which I’d worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, ‘Klima-balls’ as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things.”
After about a year, Klima’s friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. “So from that point,” Klima says, “we were known.”
Klima, Vaculik (we’re doing a reprint edition of his The Guinea Pigs next year), Havel, and Kundera all in one place, reading together. No doubt Skvorecky attended these readings too. That’s just too much.
Vaculik has also written a sort of memoir of that time, and of the years when they published each other’s work in samidzat editions, which is really fascinating. Just reading about all of these amazing writers working together in such close proximity is something.
Maybe we’ll publish that one too…
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
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.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .