14 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Jeremy Garber on Roberto Bolaño’s The Secret of Evil, which is translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer, and was recently released by New Directions.

Jeremy Garber is a used book buyer for a large independent bookstore. (And a GoodReads friend, which is where I first came across his reviews.) His work has appeared in The Oregonian, the Oregon Historical Quarterly and on Powells.com. And continuing our baseball theme, it’s worth noting that Jeremy is an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan.

Here’s the opening of his review:

As the pool of Roberto Bolaño’s as yet untranslated (or unpublished) work draws ever shallower, fans of the late Chilean novelist and poet are left hungering for whatever wayward morsels still remain. While those eager to devour something as bountiful as The Savage Detectives or 2666 are likely to be left unsated, Bolaño’s residual writings nonetheless offer a complementary (if not integral) glimpse into his towering and singular body of work. So it is with The Secret of Evil, a collection of 19 mostly unfinished pieces found amongst the files on Bolaño’s computer following his 2003 death.

Ignacio Echevarría, Spanish critic and Bolaño’s literary executor, penned a preliminary note to The Secret of Evil that outlines the provenance of the book’s contents. Despite the undated nature of these orphaned pieces, it appears that Bolaño was working on them in the months preceding his death. Echevarría offers insight into the often problematic charge of determining which of Bolaño’s stories or items had, in fact, already been completed:

“. . . the inconclusive nature of Bolaño’s novels and stories makes it difficult to decide which of the unpublished narrative texts should be regarded as finished and which are simply sketches. The task is further complicated by Bolaño’s progressive radicalization of what I have called his poetics of inconclusiveness. And to make the distinction more difficult still, Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definite tone and atmosphere; his writing, which is always captivating, virtually never stumbles or hesitates.”

Despite the arduousness of Echevarría’s attempts to clarify a particular piece’s state of completion, the writing in The Secret of Evil never reads as if it were hastily constructed, but rather, at times, simply unfinished.

Click here to read the entire review.

14 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As the pool of Roberto Bolaño’s as yet untranslated (or unpublished) work draws ever shallower, fans of the late Chilean novelist and poet are left hungering for whatever wayward morsels still remain. While those eager to devour something as bountiful as The Savage Detectives or 2666 are likely to be left unsated, Bolaño’s residual writings nonetheless offer a complementary (if not integral) glimpse into his towering and singular body of work. So it is with The Secret of Evil, a collection of 19 mostly unfinished pieces found amongst the files on Bolaño’s computer following his 2003 death.

Ignacio Echevarría, Spanish critic and Bolaño’s literary executor, penned a preliminary note to The Secret of Evil that outlines the provenance of the book’s contents. Despite the undated nature of these orphaned pieces, it appears that Bolaño was working on them in the months preceding his death. Echevarría offers insight into the often problematic charge of determining which of Bolaño’s stories or items had, in fact, already been completed:

. . . the inconclusive nature of Bolaño’s novels and stories makes it difficult to decide which of the unpublished narrative texts should be regarded as finished and which are simply sketches. The task is further complicated by Bolaño’s progressive radicalization of what I have called his poetics of inconclusiveness. And to make the distinction more difficult still, Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definite tone and atmosphere; his writing, which is always captivating, virtually never stumbles or hesitates.

Despite the arduousness of Echevarría’s attempts to clarify a particular piece’s state of completion, the writing in The Secret of Evil never reads as if it were hastily constructed, but rather, at times, simply unfinished. Some of the included stories may well have an ambiguous ending, while others leave off in a way that seemingly indicates that they were abandoned pending resumption at a later date.

Of the nineteen pieces that compose The Secret of Evil, three have appeared previously in English translation.1 “Vagaries on the Literature of Doom” (a speech about the state of post-Borgesian Argentine literature), “Sevilla Kills Me” (an unfinished, if somewhat similarly themed address), and “Beach” (progenitor of the “Bolaño was once a heroin junkie” speculations since debunked by his wife, as well as by friend and fellow author, Enrique Vila-Matas) were all published in Between Parentheses. As with much of Bolaño’s writing, the line between fictional creation and autobiographical sketch blur easily, as is evident in “I Can’t Read,” a “story” about his son Lautaro’s humorous antics during Bolaño’s first return trip to his native Chile in nearly two and a half decades. “I Can’t Read” demonstrates a lighter, more playful (and ever self-effacing) Bolaño, and is one of the book’s stronger pieces, despite it remaining, sadly, forever unfinished.

Three of The Secret of Evil’s stories, “The Old Man of the Mountain,” “Death of Ulises,” and “The Days of Chaos” feature recurrent Bolaño character (and autobiographical alter ego) Arturo Belano, two of which portray him well beyond his heady, itinerant Savage Detectives years. Daniela de Montecristo (of Nazi Literature and 2666 fame) makes a brief appearance in her namesake story, “Daniela,” wherein she recalls the loss of her virginity at age thirteen. “Scholars of Sodom” (in two versions) imagines V.S. Naipaul upon a visit to Buenos Aires. “Labyrinth” is vaguely evocative of the first part of 2666, “The Part about the Critics.” “‘Muscles,’” Echevarría surmises, is “probably the beginning of an unfinished novel, perhaps an early version of Una Novelita Lumpen” (a 2002 novella yet to be rendered into English). The collection’s title story is amongst the best (despite its brevity) of those selected for inclusion, and offers a seedy, nocturnal milieu that Bolaño was so adept at creating. The most surprising of the stories is “The Colonel’s Son,” a nightmarish tale wherein the narrator recounts a chilling zombie movie he viewed on television the night before.

The Secret of Evil, quite obviously, will appeal most greatly to those already won over by Bolaño’s extraordinary body of work. Neophytes may well find this a difficult collection to make sense of, as the nature of the book lends itself to those long since familiar with the style and themes that characterize the Chilean’s masterful fiction. This is most certainly not the place for a newcomer to start, but for the devotee, a subterranean expanse of narrative possibilities and literary what-ifs await.

You’re not going to believe this, but last night, at about four a.m., I saw a movie on TV that could have been my biography or my autobiography or a summary of my days on this bitch of a planet. It scared me so fucking shitless that i tell you i just about fell of my chair.

1 The three previously published pieces that originally appeared in Between Parentheses were translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, and the sixteen new to this collection were rendered by Chris Andrews.

23 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a review by Jeremy Garber on Roberto Bolaño’s forthcoming collection of non-fiction pieces entitled Between Parentheses. This is translated by Natasha Wimmer, and will be available from New Directions in late May.

I’m 99.9% there’s no need to explain who Roberto Bolaño is to anyone reading this blog. We’ve been praising, reviewing, and commenting on his books since our very inception. I have to admit that I haven’t had a chance to read some of his latest titles (there are so many!), but I’m really looking forward to this one . . .

Jeremy Garber is a used book buyer for a large independent bookstore. (And a GoodReads friend, which is where I first saw his review of this book.) His work has appeared in The Oregonian, the Oregon Historical Quarterly and on Powells.com. He is an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan. (Opening day is only 8 days away and it is snowing in Rochester. Yes.)

Here’s the opening of Jeremy’s review:

That nearly all of Bolaño’s non-fictional and autobiographical writings fit into a single volume is bittersweet. Lucky we are that these works were collected and published (let alone translated by the fabulous Natasha Wimmer), so that neophyte and devotee alike may espy a glimpse of the author beyond his often apocryphal mystique. Unfortunate it remains, however, that these pages make up the sum of what otherwise could have been a much more voluminous collection (had a liver transplant come ready before that fateful 2003 summer).

Between Parentheses, edited by Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, is divided into six mostly distinct parts. The third and largest of these, from which the book takes its name, is comprised of weekly columns bolaño wrote for Las Últimas Noticias, a Chilean newspaper. These writings concern themselves almost entirely with forgotten books, neglected and/or underappreciated authors, and the writerly lifestyle. The five other parts feature short pieces, essays (some left unfinished), speeches, and brief vignettes dealing mostly with literature, place, and the personal. Also present is a reprinting of the last interview he gave, to the mexican edition of Playboy, shortly before his death.

Click “here“http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=3143 to read the full piece.

23 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

That nearly all of Bolaño’s non-fictional and autobiographical writings fit into a single volume is bittersweet. Lucky we are that these works were collected and published (let alone translated by the fabulous Natasha Wimmer), so that neophyte and devotee alike may espy a glimpse of the author beyond his often apocryphal mystique. Unfortunate it remains, however, that these pages make up the sum of what otherwise could have been a much more voluminous collection (had a liver transplant come ready before that fateful 2003 summer).

Between Parentheses, edited by Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, is divided into six mostly distinct parts. The third and largest of these, from which the book takes its name, is comprised of weekly columns bolaño wrote for Las Últimas Noticias, a Chilean newspaper. These writings concern themselves almost entirely with forgotten books, neglected and/or underappreciated authors, and the writerly lifestyle. The five other parts feature short pieces, essays (some left unfinished), speeches, and brief vignettes dealing mostly with literature, place, and the personal. Also present is a reprinting of the last interview he gave, to the mexican edition of Playboy, shortly before his death.

Between Parentheses, above all, demonstrates Bolaño’s love of books, seemingly more so as a reader of them than as their writer. He was known to have read widely, and this work offers his opinions (mostly favorable, yet sometimes acerbically critical) on a wide array of books, poets, and authors well-known and obscure. As from some of his other titles, one could cull quite the impressive reading list (spanning continents and centuries) from amongst its pages. Omnipresent is Bolaño’s trademark prose style, as his non-fiction reads with the same unique voice that brought so many ardent fans to his fiction. Bolaño seldom strays into the realm of the political, but his few forays are terse and powerful. Amidst his wide knowledge of all things bibliophilic is a singular sense of humor, one that is familiar to readers of both his novels and short stories.

While Bolaño presumably never intended these writings to stand in lieu of a more cohesive autobiographical work (which, given the sentiments contained within the book, is not something he was ever likely to have penned in any proper way), it is nonetheless all we as readers are left with to make sense of him as an individual and lover of great fiction. It seems the late Chilean writer was more than content to let his books stand upon their own merits, as he seemed to have a general disregard for awards, critics, and the like. Between Parentheses is an indispensable collection for those who count bolaño as a remarkable and important literary figure (one, too, perhaps even more essential for his naysayers, detractors, and other assorted maligners).

Behind this crowd, however, hides the one true patron. If you have patience enough to search, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of what you’re looking for. And when you find it, you’ll probably be disappointed. It isn’t the devil. It isn’t the state. It isn’t a magical child. It’s the void.

9 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 8 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.



Today post is an interview by Emily Davis of Spanish author Elvira Navarro, whose “Gerardo’s Letters” was translated by Natasha Wimmer for this special issue.

Born in Huelva, Spain in 1978, Elvira Navarro has published two novels: La ciudad en invierno (Caballo de Troya, 2007) and La ciudad feliz (Mondadori, 2009). La ciudad feliz won the Jaén Prize for best novel and the Tormenta prize for best new author. She currently teaches writing workshops in Madrid and has an ongoing project called ‘Madrid es periferia’ (Madrid is Periphery) in which she explores the various undefined and marginal spaces of Madrid. Those writings can be found online here. Today we get to hear from the author about the draw of these kinds of spaces, how they relate to her writing, and what inspires her.

Emily Davis: How did you become a writer? Where did the initial desire come from?

Elvira Navarro: I don’t believe that a book can be written from any other place than from the need to express something of yourself that demands the construction of a narrative territory in order to betray oneself as little as possible. It is there where the desire to be a writer resides, and what lights the way to becoming one. When that impulse is transferred to the work it becomes authenticity, a virtue that for me is absolutely necessary, to the point where I abandon books that are well written if I do not find them authentic, that is to say, necessary for those who write them. If a book is dispensable for the author, it will be even more so for the reader.

ED: Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

EV: From my life, from the dirty corners, and from what I have said in answering the previous question.

ED: What writers have influenced you?

EV: Among recent Spanish narrative, Belén Gopegui is, along with Juan Marsé, the writer who has influenced me the most. I have discovered that certain parts of my writing are close to Cristina Fernández Cubas, but that is a discovery that I made a posteriori. I am pretty devoted to Enrique Vila-Matas and Javier Tomeo. If you had asked me what writer I would have liked to be, I would have chosen Dostoyevsky. And Marguerite Duras seems to me an example of a radical writer and writing: she is always on the verge of being ridiculous, but it ends up being brilliant. I would also cite Ana Blandiana, Julio Cortázar, David Foster Wallace and Coetzee.

ED: Do you believe that it is possible to speak of a national Spanish literature?

EV: Spain, just like any other country, has a tradition (although here it would be better to speak of many traditions), even if in a globalized world it is making less and less sense to attach a [literary] tradition to a geographic or linguistic border.

ED: In addition to your novels you are working on a project called ‘Madrid es periferia’ which is an exploration of the less visible areas of the capital. What is it that attracts you to peripheral spaces in general, and in particular with regards to writing?

EV: It occurs to me something that the painter Antonio López said in an interview, that what inspired him was not the center, but rather the outskirts. When I see a picture of, for example, Paris’s Rive Gauche, Manhattan, or Madrid’s Gran Vía, I can’t help but see a postcard. These are places that are profusely talked about, that embody our current myths, that is to say, they support the narratives that identify us. In that measure, they are overinterpreted, and their legend is set in the realm of History, not of mystery. Overinterpretation can be fruitful for many writers, after all literature does nothing but tell the same story over and over again. However, I can’t put myself into this type of setting; their signifying weight is too heavy for me, and I prefer to go to places that are undefined, with an open plan, peripheral. Sometimes I get the impression that my writing is synonymous with flaneûr, and that the storylines that I cast are an excuse for justifying that my characters travel across certain spaces that tend to go from one urban periphery to another where the city dissolves. I am exaggerating, yes, but not much. Honestly, I don’t know what it is that brings me to explore inhospitable territories; that said, I guess it has to do with the unknown and with possibility and, with relation to the latter, at times I believe that the periphery, that decomposition of the habitable, represents us better, since we are failed city dwellers. Also I think that putting my characters to prowl through godforsaken places or in places that people don’t go is a way of making that territory habitable, converting it into a polis.

And finally, here is the opening to what appears in the Granta issue as “Gerardo’s Letters,” translated by Natasha Wimmer and a part of Navarro’s novel in progress. From the first sentence it is clear that we are dealing with the kind of in-between, uninhabitable space that Navarro describes above, and this setting becomes the frame for what turns out to be an emotionally tumultuous portrait of the relationship between the narrator and Gerardo.

Two roads, separated by half a mile of wasteland, flank the hostel, and I suggest that we cross over to see whether we can find some patch of countryside, but Gerardo says it’s late, we’d better explore the fields.We walk straight ahead until it’s completely dark, and we return guided by the lights of the hostel and the cars. We can’t even see our sneakers, and looking down produces a kind of dread, as if we were about to plunge into the void or step on a nest of scorpions. When we reach the basketball courts I instruct Gerardo to hold my ankles while I do sit-ups. The ground is cold and it’s hard to bend; having Gerardo crouching in front of me, with his head brushing against my knees, begins to seem unpleasant, and I stop at what seems a reasonable limit for a beginner. I feel absurd and it occurs to me that this is the nature of couplehood: the abjection of observing and participating in the other person’s obsessions. Like my sit-ups at ten at night on the dark basketball court of a hostel a mile from Talavera. Maybe there’s something positive about this that I’ve lost sight of, or maybe this foolishness applies only to defunct couples, like me and Gerardo, who claim that everybody else in the world takes such things for granted. ‘You’re crazy,’ he tells me when I try to explain what I mean, and then I feel this craziness of mine as a searing loneliness, even real madness. When I’m with him I lose my sense of judgement, and since Gerardo is the keeper of reason, I suddenly fear that without him I won’t be able to function in the world.

We get to the dining room just as they’re about to put the trays away. It’s not even eleven; we ask an old woman in a net cap why they’re closing so early. The old woman says that if we wanted to eat late we should’ve stayed at a hotel. The menu: shrivelled peas with something that looks like York ham but turns out to be chopped cold cuts, and breaded cutlets in perfect ovals whose greasy coating hides some kind of processed chicken. All I eat are the peas. The chopped meat and the processed chicken are the same pale pink colour. ‘The cutlets are raw,’ says Gerardo. At a big table the girl from last night is talking to three boys of about the same age, who must be the other high-school students. They’ve finished eating, and they’re smoking, flicking their ash on the tray; then they put out their cigarettes in what’s left of the peas. The girl doesn’t look at us.

‘I’m going to shower,’ I tell Gerardo as we enter the room. I takemy robe, toiletry bag and flip-flops out of my duffel bag, and whenI’m about to open the door Gerardo says:

‘You can get undressed here. I won’t touch you.’

I undress with my back to him. I’m conscious of his efforts to communicate his lust; it registers as a disagreeable weight on the back of my neck that makes me get tangled up in my trousers and fall down. I stand up and leave wearing my robe over my bra and T-shirt. Fortunately the hot water works and I stand under the shower head, which spits out water in fits and starts, until my fingers are wrinkled and the bathroom mirror is steamy. I don’t want to go back to the room; I pace back and forth, opening the doors of the shower stalls, where those little black bugs that seem to inhabit every dank place collect. I make a racket with the doors and stir up the bugs; a whole swarm ends up flying around the mirror, which is dripping with water. My feet are cold and I decide to get in the shower again, but the sides of the stalls are covered with insects now and I don’t have the strength to shoo them away. I go back to the room. Gerardo is lying in bed masturbating, with his pants around his ankles. He doesn’t look at me. I gather up my clothes as fast as I can and, trailing the cord of the hairdryer, I leave the room before he comes.

I return to the bathroom; the insects have retreated to the nooks and crannies of the showers and are now undetectable. I’m afraid there won’t be any outlets; if there aren’t, I can go to the TV room and dry my hair there. I imagine the four high-school students sprawled on the vinyl sofas, watching a celebrity survival show.

Asking the high-school students for permission to make a noise with my hairdryer while they watch their show doesn’t seem very appealing; and yet I’m determined not to go back to the room, even if Gerardo thinks the creepy gnome of a hostel manager has chopped me into bits and stuffed me in the pool-bar freezer. This is a good moment for us to break up once and for all: at six in the morning, while he’s asleep, I’ll go up for my duffel bag and call a taxi. A break-up plan like this might be out of the question for another couple without involving the police and having the hostel searched for the vanished loved one; but Gerardo and I have become accustomed to bad behaviour and extravagant gestures. If I decide to spend the day hanging upside down from a tree, he’ll leave me there, though he might tell me twenty times that I’m a nut. This is another one of the things that, until a year ago, made leaving him unthinkable, because I hate normal life, and in some sense and despite the awfulness, with Gerardo I seem to be safe from a certain kind of normality. With him, through the process of taking everything to the limit – rage, contemplation, disgust – I attain a kind of exasperated life and I’m convinced that this exasperation must violently propel me somewhere.

You can read this complete short story—and 21 more—in the new issue of Granta, which you can receive for free by subscribing now.

25 November 10 | Chad W. Post |

As we mentioned last Friday, we’re going to spend the next 19 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.

As a Thanksgiving Day special, we’re featuring Chilean author Carlos Labbe, whose short story has one of the coolest titles: “The Girls Resembled Each Other in the Unfathomable,” which is translated by Natasha Wimmer.



To this day, investigators are still adding sightings of Bruno Vivar to the case file of the disappeared Navidad siblings. Every summer since the incident, a dozen witnesses from different parts of central Chile claim to have seen a young man fitting his description: striped T-shirt in various combinations of primary colours; shorts or bathing trunks; leather sandals; extremely thin hairless legs; dishevelled hair in a ragged cut, sometimes brown and other times dyed red. Over and over again, as if his parents’ last memory of him had been burned on the retinas of so many who never knew him (the press coverage was as intense as it was brief), they see Bruno Vivar lying in the sand, face down on a towel, staring out to sea, looking disdainfully through some photographs, or swimming in silence. Other testimonies, of course, add specific and equally disturbing details: Bruno drinking at hotel bars, beer in cans or double shots of whiskey that he pays for with a card issued in the United States, while with the other hand he fondles a die that he spins like a top on the lacquered surface of the bar; sitting on a terrace at noon, noisily eating French fries; reading, in the dining hall, a letter delivered to the hotel weeks before; tossing the die and then writing another letter never sent by the local mail.

These bits of information come from different sources: guards; waiters; store clerks; receptionists; cleaning people who at the time also yearned to assemble the missing pieces of the case but who only succeeded in helping the police to declare impossible a verdict of either homicide or kidnapping. It has been tacitly assumed that Bruno Vivar – a legal adult – simply abandoned his family all of a sudden, which isn’t a crime in Chile.

The unasked question is why the name of Alicia Vivar, the fourteen-year-old girl, appears only twice in the file. Especially after a detailed review of reports on the reappearances of her brother, Bruno. Because Bruno never once turns up alone. The various accounts agree that he arrives at hotel parking garages in different expensive cars always driven by a man whose smile also appears in police files, though in another section: Boris Real.

This is a great way to start an excerpt. The speculation, the intriguing clues, the incompleteness—all of which makes this compelling, makes you want to continue reading. Not going to give anything else away, but this is a tight, well-crafted, five-page story. Definitely one of my favorites (so far) in this issue of Granta, and I really hope this whole novel (entitled Navidad y Matanza) is eventually published in English.

In addition to his work, Labbe sounds like an interesting guy. He’s the author three novels (this one plus Libro de plumas and Locuela), and a collection of short stories (Caracteres blancos). He also co-wrote two screenplays (Malta con huevos [Malta with Eggs?] and Yo so Cagliostro), and is the author of the hypertext (?!) Pentagonal: includidos tu y yo, which is available here.

On top of all this, Labbe used to be a member of the bands Ex Fiesta and Tornasolidos. Seeing that this is Thanksgiving (which also markst the beginning of the Guadalajara Book Fair), and that there’s probably only about 5 of you actually reading this, in between turkey and pumpkin pie, looking for a momentary escape from your family (whom you love, but who can be a bit, you know, much to take at times), I thought that rather than bore you with literary analysis and endless accolades for this 33-year-old wunderkind, that I’d leave you with a song from one of Labbe’s bands. Unfortunately there’s no YouTube video of Tornasolidos rocking out (I know! I can’t believe it either), so I had to go all old-school and pull this song from MySpace (MySpace!). Enjoy!

And don’t forget, you can get this entire issue for free by subscribing to Granta.

Next up: Andres Neuman.

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

As any and all long-time (or probably even short-time) readers of Three Percent know, we pick on publisher websites quite a bit. (See for instance, any and every post about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)

Most often they deserve it for many of the same reasons that we like to make fun of book ads. I’m totally ripping off Richard Nash here, but if every company advertised its products the way book publishers do—a picture of the product with three quotes saying how great it is—capitalism would’ve crumbled long ago.

And just look at this mess. All the “You Might Also Like . . .” crap is annoying at best, especially since it’s followed at the bottom by “New Books Similar to This One.” And where’s the info about the book (ISBN, price, page count)? Near the bottom of the listing in all italics. You’d never know it, but if you click on the image of the book cover, you get to read an excerpt! And what’s up with all the ads and “Hot@Harper” shit? My six-year-old daughter has better aesthetic sense than the people who designed this.

BUT, occasionally a corporate press gets it right. Like with FSG’s Work in Progress monthly newsletter/website. (Granted, this is apples to oranges in comparing to Harper’s trainwreck, but I’m willing to bet Harper’s monthly promo emails are as aesthetically confused.) Not only is this site elegant, it looks like something you’d want to read, and the marketing aspects of it are subdued and enhanced with interesting content. Such as this conversation between Marion Duvert and Richard Howard on Roland Barthes (Barthes? Can’t imagine another “big” publisher referencing him—AND Samuel Beckett—in their monthly promo-newsletter):

So he called me just to say hello, and say that he would like to come to New York, and could I show him around a little bit because he had never been here.

I said certainly, and that I looked forward to it very much. He arrived. He had the first copy of, I think, Mythologies in print. The first day was very proper and careful. But we got along very well. It was apparent that he had made the right choice, and that we were going to be friends. I suppose that means I met the man first. But he came carrying a book, and I think he knew that I was a translator; and he wanted me to see it. I did translate right away three or four of those pieces that were published in various periodicals here. That was the beginning.

I don’t think he ever again read any of my translations [of him]. I don’t think he had any . . . it isn’t that he didn’t have interest. He would say that he didn’t know English well enough to have it make any difference; it was just his satisfaction that they were in English. At the beginning I think there was some interest in that fact, but I never heard from him again on that subject.

I would ask him questions. I remember calling him up once and saying that he had referred to somebody inadequately or incorrectly, as I just knew. Did he want me to silently correct the mistake? He said, “Oh, of course. Do whatever you want. I have no idea.” And then there was some question of some king or even Egyptian pharaoh, and he said, “Well, make it up. Make it up. I don’t remember the case myself. If it’s not correct in the French text, just make up something.” He had decided that I was trustworthy, and he could rely on me to take care of such things, and there was no further discussion about it. He was not an anxious author about his translations.

This month’s issue also includes interviews with Edith Grossman and Natasha Wimmer on Mario Vargas Llosa, both of which are pretty interesting:

Chapman: You’ve translated a number of García Márquez’s novels—another Latin American Nobel laureate—who is lionized as much for his influence as for his writing. Do you also see the Vargas Llosa imprimatur in younger writers?

Grossman: I can’t really answer that question except in the broadest terms. Vargas Llosa’s influence may lie in the intertwining of the personal and the political. García Márquez’s influence is more stylistic, I think: the intertwining of fantasy and reality, perhaps. They both owe a great debt to William Faulkner and, most of all, to Miguel de Cervantes. On the other hand, the impact of the Latin American Boom on young writers everywhere was enormous, and I don’t think Toni Morrison or Salman Rushdie, for example, would write the same way without that older generation of Latin American writers.

Chapman: Speaking of the next generation, what was your reaction to Granta‘s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” list?

Grossman: I was very happy that Granta devoted an issue to young Spanish-language writers. In fact, I translated one of the stories, by a Peruvian, Santiago Roncagliolo. He’s a wonderful writer—I did a novel of his, Red April, a couple of years ago.

Kudos to you, FSG, for figuring out this interwebs thing and how 21st-century digital marketing can work. If you’re interested, you can subscribe here.

27 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Still pounding out some pieces for the Publishing Perspectives Show Daily, so I’ll have to make this quick. (It’s way paranoid, but I have the feeling the Publishing Perspectives people will see this—hello Ed! hi Hannah! hey there Erin!—and wonder why the fuck I’m past my deadline for the pieces I owe them . . . )

But anyway, the new issue of Two Lines from the Center for the Art of Translation arrived, and is way too cool not to at least mention. Even the title—“Some Kind of Beautiful Signal”—is cool. Indie rock cool. Something off of “Painful” cool. Which is fitting considering that two of the coolest translation people in the country guest-edited this particular issue: Natasha Wimmer of Bolano translation fame worked on the prose side of things, and Jeffrey Yang, poet, editor at New Directions, selected the poetry. (Which includes a special folio dedicated to the poetry of the Uyghur ethnic minority in China. Again, super cool.)

Here’s Wimmer’s take on the issue’s title:

Some kind of beautiful signal: that’s what each of these stories sends us. When we read in translation, those signals may come from far away, but they are strong and insistent. Readers in this country have recently proved that they are willing to pick up on some foreign frequencies: the success of Roberto Bolano’s novels is a case in point. As one of Bolano’s translators, I’ve been in the fortunate position of witnessing how one writer can change global perceptions of the literature and culture of an entire region. Writers and translator—and readers—should remind themselves once again of the power of fiction in translation.

There are only about a billion reasons to pick up a copy of this anthology. (Which you’ll be able to do here. The issue featured there now—“Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed”—is also worth checking out, but isn’t the issue I’m writing about.) Including the fact that this is one of the greatest outlets for youngish translators. And for discovering new international writers. It’s an important component of the literary translation scene and supporting CAT helps support a wealth of great programs and opportunities. Heartfelt feelings and obligations aside, the content in this issue totally rocks with all the buzzing emotion of a post-rock epic . . . Anyway, here’s some of the issue’s highlights:

  • Three Poems by Danish writer Inger Christensen, who passed away last year, and whose playfully knotted novel Azorno is available from New Directions;
  • An excerpt from Lydia Davis’s new translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, thus linking Two Lines and Playboy (SFW—I promise);
  • Translations by Lucas Klein of a couple Xi Chuan poems;
  • Translations by Heather Cleary Wolfgang (who is translating a couple Sergio Chejfec books for us) of poems by avant-garde writer Oliverio Girondo;
  • An excerpt by Natalka Sniadanko whose title—“Why You Ought Not to Subscribe to the Newspaper”—I find pretty intriguing, and which opens, “Milia, our mail carrier, does not enjoy her job.”;
  • “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” by Adolfo Bioy Casares (everyone should read The Invention of Morel) and Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine (a trifecta of literary awesomeness);
  • “In promptu,” which is a piece by Peruvian writer Martin Adan that is translated by Rick London and Katherine Silver;
  • A story by Mikhail Shishkin (whose Maidenhair is forthcoming from Open Letter) translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz;
  • A piece by Roberto Bolano translated by Natasha Wimmer that’s perfect for this blog. (Even if it is a bit mean to translators.) It’s called “Translation Is a Testing Ground,” and, as Wimmer points out, ends with an absolutely brilliant passage about “how to recognize a work of art.”;1
  • A focus on Uyghur poetry, and much, much more.

Another solid issue from a wonderful organization.

1 I maybe shouldn’t excerpt this whole paragraph, but well, whatever. It’s too good to resist:

How to recognize a work of art? How to separate it, even if just for a moment, from its critical apparatus, its exegetes, its tireless plagiarizers, its belittlers, its final lonely fate? Easy. Let it be translated. Let its translator be far from brilliant. Rip pages from it at random. Leave it lying in an attic. If after all of this a kid comes along and reads it, and after reading it makes it his own, and is faithful to it (or unfaithful, whichever) and reinterprets it and accompanies it on its voyage to the edge, and both are enriched and the kid adds an ounce of value to its original value, then we have something before us, a machine or a book, capable of speaking to all human beings: not a plowed field but a mountain, not the image of a dark forest but the dark forest, not a flock of birds but the Nightingale.

15 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

December isn’t all about gift getting, crowded shopping malls, uncomfortable family gatherings, and cookies—it’s also about year-end donations to worthy non-profit organizations such as the Center for the Art of Translation.

As an added incentive, if you donate more than $5 to CAT, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win books from translators featured in the Lit&Lunch series. Specifically, here are the prizes:

First prize is a three-book package featuring two of this year’s most exciting translators: Natasha Wimmer and Breon Mitchell. The winner receives translator-signed copies of Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, plus a copy of the newest Two Lines anthology, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed.

Two runners-up will each receive a translator-signed copy of The Tin Drum and a copy of Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed.

Every donation really counts, which is why we brought the threshold for this giveaway to just $5. Those who pledge $20 or more will get 3 chances to win, and those who sign up for a recurring donation totaling $50 or more over the course of next year will have 5 chances to win these excellent books.

Click here for all the details, links to donate, etc.

25 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Natasha Wimmer has an interesting piece on Catalan author Merce Rodoreda. It’s great introduction to Rodoreda—considered to be one of the greatest Catalan authors of all time—even if Wimmer does prefer The Time of the Doves (available from Graywolf) to Death in Spring (which we brought out last year and was masterfully translated by Martha Tennent).

I can’t remember the first time I read Mercè Rodoreda’s The Time of the Doves. It might have been when I was 13, living with my family in the high-rise suburbs of Madrid. It might have been when I was 17, back in Madrid with my mother for a few weeks in a sweltering rented room. Or it might have been when I was 19, on my own in the city, sharing an apartment near the train station with four South American girls. In any case, I read it in Spanish, under the title La plaza del diamante (the original Catalan title is La plaça del diamant). And I read it at about the same time as I read Nada, by Carmen Laforet. These were the first serious books I read in Spanish, and I’ve never forgotten them.

Certainly, few books have been as gorgeously sad. On a personal list of misery-inducing favorites including Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, The Time of the Doves ranks near the top. Set in Barcelona around the time of the Spanish Civil War, it’s tragic simply as a function of its setting, but Rodoreda plumbs a sadness that reaches beyond historic circumstances, a sadness born of helplessness, an almost voluptuous vulnerability. This condition will be familiar to readers of Rhys’s novels, to which Rodoreda’s novels bear a certain resemblance. Rodoreda’s women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty. [. . .]

For those who’ve only read The Time of the Doves, Death in Spring will come as a surprise. In it, Rodoreda works in an entirely different register, heavily symbolic and fable-like. Signs of this tendency are visible in a number of her short stories, some of which are collected in My Christina and Other Stories. In this collection, Rodoreda’s full range of expression is on display, from the almost banal realism of a later novel, A Broken Mirror, through the exquisite impressionism of The Time of the Doves and Camellia Street, to the garish symbolism of Death in Spring. In Rodoreda’s more symbolic fictions, nature comes to the fore and humans mimic animals or morph into them, as in the short story “The Salamander,” in which a woman who sleeps with a married man is burned to death and turns into a salamander, returning to live under her lover’s bed.

The use of symbolism is a form of sublimation, in the same way that the ruthless elision and economy of Rodoreda’s writing in The Time of the Doves is a form of sublimation. In both cases, Rodoreda heightens and transforms the brutal reality of existence in a world of endless war. The artfulness of the latter method, however, stands in contrast to the often garbled mythmaking of some of the short stories and Death in Spring. Like “The Salamander,” Death in Spring is set in a village that’s part medieval, part contemporary and part infernal. A river runs beneath it, through a rocky passage, and every year one man must swim it to make sure the village isn’t about to be washed away. Most emerge near death, their faces torn by the rocks, but even this is benign compared with the village’s rituals of death, in which living villagers are stuffed full of pink cement and entombed upright in trees.

You can read the whole article here and when you’re inspired to purchase all of Rodoreda’s books, you can do so via Brazos Bookstore’s online catalog by clicking here.

22 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Two Words — the excellent blog of the Center for the Art of Translation — posted an interesting, brief conversation with Natasha Wimmer about her forthcoming Bolano translations. I think any and all Bolano fans will be especially intrigued by this bit:

Natasha Wimmer: I’ve read The Third Reich (and in fact, it looks like I’ll be translating it, though I have yet to sign on the dotted line). It’s about an elaborate board game called The Third Reich (Bolaño was a great fan of war games), it takes place on the Costa Brava, and it pits a German tourist against an enigmatic South American who rents paddle boats on the beach. I loved it.

But this is just one of her Bolano projects. She’s also translating Antwerp (technically his first novel, although it wasn’t published until 2002) and Entre parentesis (a collection of nonfiction) for New Directions.

15 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Two Lines (and the Center for the Art of Translation as a whole) is one of the most impressive annual anthologies of literature in translation being published today. (Actually, most of those qualifiers can be eliminated: it’s one of the best annual publications in the world.)

One of the reasons for the organization’s success (in addition to a staff that includes Olivia Sears, Annie Janusch, and now Scott Esposito), are the amazing guest editors they get to work on the anthologies.

The next volume (the seventeenth) will be edited by translator Natasha Wimmer (one of the absolute best, most well known for 2666 and The Savage Detectives) and poet and translator Jeffrey Yang.

I’m convinced that they will put together one of the best Two Lines yet. And if you’re a publisher or translator and want to submit something to the magazine, you should contact Annie Janusch at ajanusch at catranslation dot org before November 25th . . .

26 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On Saturday, the NBCC announced the finalists for the series of awards they hand out every year. As always, all of the finalists are pretty strong, and there are two works in translation up for prizes. Bolano’s 2666 is a fiction finalist, and Pierre Martory’s The Landscapist is a poetry finalist.

I must say, I’m not entirely sure why the official listing of the NBCC site references John Ashbery as the translator of the Martory, but doesn’t list Natasha Wimmer as the translator of 2666. Probably an oversight, and not the only place where translator’s names tend to disappear (try looking through a publisher’s catalog some time and guessing whether certain books are translated or not), but still . . .

I was half-watching the live blog of this event, and liked Monica de la Torre’s comment that it was nice that 2666 was honored,

but had hoped that other books in translation would have received more attention in this year’s awards season as well. “There’s just so much out there!“ she exclaimed.

It’s also really cool that the PEN America Center is receiving the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof Life Achievement Award. Very cool and very deserving.

16 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



2666 by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. (Chile, FSG)

What more is there to say about 2666? Earlier this year I claimed it was the “big book at BEA,” I also have told various people that it is one of the greatest books to be published during my reading lifetime. It’s gotten a ton of review attention, and was the only non-Knopf book to make the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2008 list. It’s big, it’s available as a three-volume paperback and in hardcover, it’s ambitious, it’s five novels in one, and it’s on our longlist.

A simple Google search will bring you more reviews and descriptions of the book than you care to read, despite the fact that this isn’t an easy book to talk about or review. (In terms of Best Translated Book panelists, both Michael Orthofer and Scott Esposito have reviewed this.) Each of the five sections is very distinct, although they link together in a sort of mind-blowing fashion. And at the center of the novel are the disturbing Ciudad Juarez murders. From the “Note to the First Edition”:

In one of his many notes for 2666, Bolano indicates the existence in the work of a “hidden center,” concealed beneath what might be considered the novel’s “physical center.” There is reason to think that this physical center is the city of Santa Teresa, faithful reflection of Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican-U.S. border. There the five parts of the novel ultimately converge; there the crimes are committed that comprise its spectacular backdrop (and that are said by one of the novel’s characters to contain “the secret of the world”). As for the “hidden center” . . . , might it not represent 2666 itself, the date upon which the whole novel rests? [. . .]

A final observation is perhaps in order here. Among Bolano’s notes for 2666 there appears the single line: “The narrator of 2666 is Arturo Bolano.” And elsewhere Bolano adds, with the indication “for the end of _2666_“: “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. Farewell to you all, Arturo Bolano.”

Earlier this month, Words Without Borders hosted a special event at Idlewild books with Natasha Wimmer (the translator of 2666) and novelist Francisco Goldman (who, I believe, was the first person to turn Barbara Epler of New Directions onto Bolano). Sounds like the event was spectacular, at least according to these two write-ups:

I think I could have listened to Francisco Goldman tell stories all night long, despite the heat raditating from over a hundred of us standing, eager Bolaño fans at Idlewild Bookstore Thursday night. While Goldman and Bolaño had never met – indeed, Goldman had not read Bolaño until shortly after his death – he effused passion for the subject of the night’s talk and channeled their many mutual friends and admirers for a surprisingly intimate look an author who is taking on the near mythical status he’s had for some time now outside of the U.S. [From Bud Parr’s report for Words Without Borders

And, one of the most important details from Scott Bryan Wilson’s write up at Conversational Reading

Goldman pronounced the title “Two-six-six-six,” perhaps emphasizing the Number of the Beast association, while Wimmer opted for the lengthier but seemingly more correct “Twenty-six-sixty-six.

What’s even better is that both Natasha Wimmer and Francisco Goldman wrote essays for this event (click above names for both) that are quite interesting. Here’s a nice section from Francisco’s piece that’s also a good note to end on:

Bolaño drew from reality in his fiction, and from his own life, yet his fiction is not really realist. His fiction pointed away from reality, and certainly away from mundane political or moral interpretations of reality, towards something else—poetry, open-endedness, a kind of philosophical and tragicomic shock; his fiction always opens “new paths,” as Bolaño said of Borges’s writing. And it is partly this mysterious, radical quality, sometimes even a quality of epic parable (someone in 2666, Amalfitano maybe, says something along the lines of “if you could solve the mystery of the murders of women in Santa Teresa, you’d decipher the meaning of evil in our time”) that makes his writing seem more kin to the spirit of Borges and even Kafka than to other Latin American writers he also admired, such as Lezama, Onetti, Cortazar, or Bioy.

4 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

I usually don’t post things like this, but there are two great events happening tonight that I wish I could be at.

First off, Archipelago Books is having their “third biennial fundraising auction” tonight at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy at 972 Fifth Ave. from 6:30 to 8:30. Lots of great stuff up for auction (you can see it all by clicking here) and the proceeds will go to a very worth cause.

Also happening tonight is the next event in the Words Without Borders reading and conversation series at Idlewild Books this time featuring Natasha Wimmer and Francisco Goldman talking about Bolano’s 2666. I can’t imagine a better event . . . especially since I’ve heard that FSG will be selling special 2666 t-shirts. (I hope this rumor isn’t unfounded, and if anyone will buy me one, I swear I’ll pay you back.) Bud Parr has a column at WWB previewing this event.

3 April 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

So, following up on yesterday’s post about the coverage of Bolano in The Nation and at Bookninja, today Michael Orthofer at the Literary Saloon has info about the anxiously awaited 2666, Bolano’s final book, and supposed magnum opus.

How very exciting to find that, at least on the American Amazon.com site, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, in Natasha Wimmer’s translation, can now be pre-ordered (and judging by the sales ranks, some people already have). Better yet, FSG is apparently making it available both in a three-paperback-volume boxed set as well as a 912-page hardcover — both available on 11 November.

I’m a big fan of the dual three-paperback and hardcover printing—fantastic idea, especially for a “difficult” 900+-page book. Although I’m willing to do/sell/admit to anything to get a galley version . . .

And to follow up on a comment I made at the Columbia Translation conference—basically, that I had heard Natasha Wimmer wrote a really great overview piece on Bolano that was distributed with the galleys and helped reviewers in writing about the book—the article in question is actually available online.

26 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As I mentioned earlier, things have been pretty much shut down around here the past few days, so we’re a bit behind. Nevertheless, this stray questions with Natasha Wimmer from Paper Cuts is definitely worth checking out.

Natasha is one of the rising stars among translators, thanks in no small part to her translation of Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. (She has also translated Mario Vargas Llosa and Laura Restrepo.)

For all Bolano fans, here’s a nice tease for 2666, which is supposed to come out from FSG later this year:

Long stretches of the novel are set on the Mexico-U.S. border and inside a prison. And that’s not all. Bolaño really gives the translator a workout. I also researched Black Panther history, pseudo-academic jargon (actually, some of that came naturally), World War II German army terminology, Soviet rhetoric, boxing lingo, obscure forms of divination and forensic science vocabulary, among other things. If that makes the novel sound like a hodgepodge, I promise it’s not. Even the most obscure detours are thoroughly Bolaño-ized – filtered through his weird, ominous, comic worldview.

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