8 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood is already set to represent Canada in the WWCOL championship, so now we’re ready to find out who she’s going to face off against between Colombia’s representative (Delirium by Laura Restrepo) or Germany’s (The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky).

Laura Restrepo’s Delirium (Colombia) got to this point by by getting past England’s Life After Life and then Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft before knocking out Costa Rica’s Assault on Paradise by the convincing score of 6-1.

Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine cruised into this semis, earning a bye after beating up on the Thailand entry, The Happiness of Kati by the score of 5-1, then taking apart Côte d’Ivoire’s Queen Pokou, 4-1.

And now . . .

Hal Hlavinka: Germany

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine wins in a cover art penalty shootout!

Germany 1 – Colombia 0


Meredith Miller: Germany

I’m picking The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, because Rosa is the type of manipulative, dirty-playing, spit-firing character you would not wish upon your worst enemy, but is so fun to explore her inner psyche as she wreaks havoc on her fictional world.

Germany 2 – Colombia 0


P.T. Smith: Colombia

With the tension and suspense spread across and between the varied narrators, Delirium continues its run to the Cup.

Germany 2 – Colombia 1


Kalah McCaffrey: Colombia

A tough call—both teams sport unhinged but powerful women and constant, unsettling action. My personal favorite is Germany, with Rosalinda carrying the team in the fashion of Lionel Messi. But as Colombia’s got more depth to the roster, they eke out the win.

Germany 2 – Colombia 2


Hilary Plum: Germany

Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine edges out Laura Restrepo’s excellent Delirium, if only because Bronsky’s cruel and indefatigable protagonist, Rosa Achmetowna, is willing to do anything to win. Both novels are very compelling, but a Women’s World Cup should maybe have a special place for a character as boldly “unlikeable” as Bronsky’s remarkable Rosa

Germany 3 – Colombia 2


Rhea Lyons: Germany

I can’t decide between Delirium and Tartar . . . Tartar is so good!! ARGH, I’ll go with that.

Germany 4 – Colombia 2


Mythili Rao: Germany

Three generations of quirky Soviet women, what’s not to love?

Germany 5 – Colombia 2


There we go! The two favorites after rounds one and two—Germany’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine and Canada’s Oryx & Crake—will face off in the first Women’s World Cup of Literature championship this Friday!

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.

2 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

From here on out, multiple judges will be voting on each of the matches and the “score” will be an accumulation of these votes.

Just to recap, Tatiana Lobo’s Assault on Paradise (Costa Rica) made it to this point by beating Brazil’s Crow Blue and Spain’s The Happy City.

Laura Restrepo’s Delirium (Colombia) got here by getting past England’s Life After Life and then Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft.

The winner of this game faces off against The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine (Germany) on Tuesday, July 7th.

On to the match!

Hilary Plum: Colombia

Delirium is gripping and seamlessly made, even its seeming asides proving vital and resonant, and so it outmatches its worthy opponent, whose game is beautifully picaresque but thus less firmly organized.

Colombia 1 – Costa Rica 0


P.T. Smith: Colombia

Delirium wins, as books of madness usually do for me, and Natasha Wimmer proves her adeptness at translating unsettled reality.

Colombia 2 – Costa Rica 0


Meredith Miller: Costa Rica

Again, I’m choosing Assault on Paradise for the win. Both books involve a mystery surrounding the characters’ plights, and I am still blown away by the epic reach Lobo gives Pedro’s story. I found the revolving nature of Delirium’s narrative beautifully hypnotizing, but it failed to create the same sense of urgency that is experienced reading Assault on Paradise.

Colombia 2 – Costa Rica 1


Mythili Rao: Colombia

Delirium. Because the 80s are more fascinating to me than the 1800s, and Agustina seems to be lost in more interesting ways than Pedro is.

Colombia 3 – Costa Rica 1


Hal Hlavinka: Colombia

By turns light-footed, twisted, and toothy, Delirium out paces the great Assault on Paradise in this North v. South American quarterfinal faceoff!

Colombia 4 – Costa Rica 1


Katrine Jensen: Colombia

I vote for Delirium because it manages to combine a fast pace and punchiness with elegance and musicality on a sentence level, which is quite an accomplishment. Because of this, Delirium seems more complete than Assault on Paradise, which can be slow and confusing at times. Plus, Natasha Wimmer’s translation is simply masterful and difficult to compete with.

Colombia 5 – Costa Rica 1


Rhea Lyons: Colombia

I personally just love the perspective in Delirium, the voice, and it’s just more straight up entertaining.

Colombia 6 – Costa Rica 1

*

There you have it—the first semifinal is set, with Germany’s Alina Bronsky set to go up against Colombia’s Laura Restrepo for a spot in the first ever Women’s World Cup of Literature championship!

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 tomorrow for the second quarterfinal featuring Burial Rites (Australia) up against Dark Heart of the Night (Cameroon). Promises to be a very tight match . . .

27 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Hilary Plum—you can learn more about her writing and editing at her website or on Twitter at @ClockrootBooks.

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!

The stands are packed on both sides, tension palpable. Mexico’s entry into this year’s tournament: Carmen Boullosa’s Texas: The Great Theft, in Samantha Schnee’s endlessly sly translation. The novel kicks off in 1859, in a lightly fictionalized version of the Mexican/Texas border, along the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande (depending on where you’re sitting) and in the twin cities—or, a Mexican city and a sad Texan excuse for one—of Matasánchez and Bruneville. As the title reminds us and the novel renders in profound detail, this border was drawn in bloodshed and greed: land that is now the state of Texas had first belonged to Mexico, until the Republic of Texas was declared in 1835, for among other reasons the desire to legalize slavery, which was counter to Mexican law. In 1846, Texas joined the U.S., resulting in the war of 1848 that our textbooks know as the Mexican-American War, but which could just be called a U.S. invasion. The US declared a new, more southerly border and land north of it was redirected into American hands—i.e.: stolen. Amid all this, the conflicts with and among the American Indians who were either of or had been relocated to the region continued. If this sounds like a highly complex geopolitical moment in which to set what seems to be a comic novel, you’re right on.

On one dusty high noon in July in Bruneville, the sheriff/mediocre carpenter of Bruneville insults Don Nepomuceno, son of a prominent Mexican family. Shots are fired, conflict ensues—an intricate and bloody chain of consequences that our narrator relates with relentless Pynchonian inventiveness. The pace is fast, the tone witty, the speed may be manic but this novel won’t lose its cool. When I picture this team, its game is soccer as spectacle: moves showy as hell, hairstyles unprecedented. Each short passage in Texas zips into the next, into and out of the lives of a massive cast of characters, ever precise but never not flip. Boullasa’s form of procedural improvisation is her own, though one thinks too of Aira and Bolaño: this is art along the high-tide line, style poised, glittering, mid-crash, before exhausting itself. Through the snap and pizazz of the prose, the horrors of this conflict surface; we recall how close we are to the landscape through which Cormac McCarthy’s Judge raged, the kid with his mindless taste for violence.

Daring, even absurd, Mexico’s game starts strong: Boullosa’s nonstop stand-up routines, winking and shapeshifting, take us to halftime with a 2–1 Mexican lead.

We turn then to the Colombian side, where Laura Restrepo’s Delirium sets a quite different pace: a fluid elegance, a taut lyricism that, we’ll come to see, can both give and take real devastation. The achievements of Restrepo’s novel—in Natasha Wimmer’s translation—are curiously hard to describe. Its structure is more conventional than Texas’s, without really being conventional; setting the two novels side by side illuminates how Restrepo, too, is playing with genre, though more quietly, so that the reader may almost not notice. The novel is centered on Agustina, a young Colombian woman of upper-class background who is deep in an episode of—one could call it delirium, or madness, or mania: in any case she is far from reality. She has spent her life, as we’ll learn, in and out of such episodes, while also believing herself, perhaps being believed by others, to possess visionary powers. Agustina is a sort of absent center, then—even though she is one of the novel’s four narrators, sometimes referring to herself in the first person, sometimes in the third, she also constitutes its vital mystery. What has caused the new and terrible instance of madness in which we discover her in the novel’s opening scene? This is the question her lover, Aguilar—former professor of literature; current dog-food salesman—sets out to answer, and which seems to drive the book’s plot, against the background of 1980s Bogotá. Aguilar narrates the course of this search, while Agustina’s sections are set during her childhood, amid the layers of secrecy and oppression that make up her deeply patriarchal family. Agustina’s grandfather, a German musician obsessed with a young student, occupies the third, haunting narrative strand; the fourth belongs to the propulsive voice of Midas McAlister, Agustina’s one-time boyfriend and a money launderer who may have just run dangerously afoul of cocaine king Pablo Escobar.

The novel seems, then, to be driven by suspense, infused by noir: a madwoman, a mystery, a detective on the hunt. Yet gradually—no spoilers here—Restrepo sets aside the simplifying logic of cause and effect and refuses any expectation of easy resolution. One narrator yields to the next, ongoingly, and the instability of each character’s story reflects a greater instability, a vulnerability intimate to each voice and yet which also belongs to the societal and political moment—drug traffickers running the nation, guerrillas claiming the highways, bombs detonating downtown—in which they live. In Wimmer’s translation, Restrepo’s syntax is capable of swift architectural feats (you may think of Sebald), suddenly building a world that is half-reality, half-dream, and just as quickly replacing it with another, each creation given life by a vivid sensual glimmer or an offhand flash of her intelligence.

The match is a tense one; both teams play at the top of their games. In the stands you all should have Texas in one hand, Delirium in the other, not able even to pick up your beer till you’ve finished reading. It could go either way, but today, since I’m the judge, I see Colombia pull away in the game’s second half, a greater range of moves at its disposal. Texas is so insistently various and vaudevillian that it becomes, in its way, consistent, and loses a bit of momentum: all short fast passes, less chance of the long desperate lob toward goal, of sinking to one’s knees on the field. We end with a hard-fought 3–2, victory Delirium, in what has surely been another incarnation of the beautiful game.

*

There we go! All six countries in the quarter- and semi-finals have been decided: Germany, Canada, Cameroon, Australia, Costa Rica, and Colombia. (Very much different from the actual semifinals!)

In terms of pairings, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine gets the top bye and will play the winner of Assault on Paradise vs. Delirium. Oryx & Crake gets the other bye and will face off against the winner of Burial Rites vs. Dark Heart of the Night.

More info soon about these final match-ups. For now, enjoy today’s actual Women’s World Cup quarterfinals . . .

14 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Rhea Lyons, a scout at Franklin & Seigal.

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!

Judging this match up between Life After Life and Delirium was particularly difficult. I loved both novels for wildly different reasons, and struggled to find even loosely define parameters within which i could work to compare the two. In the end, it just came down to heart, which seems appropriate (you know, sports!).

Life After Life begins over and over again on a snowy day in February, 1910, as Ursula is born, the youngest daughter of a British family living just outside of London. Each time Ursula is reincarnated she makes it a little bit further in life, paying closer attention to the uneasy sense of deja vu that overcomes her just before she encounters the thing that lead to her demise the last time. She survives the influenza outbreak in 1918 by pushing her maid down the stairs, preventing her from returning from London and infecting the family. She survives getting raped—which leads to an unwanted pregnancy and being beaten to death by an abusive husband—by instead punching the young offender in the mouth when he tries to kiss her for the first time. The more lives she lives, the stronger her deja vu becomes, until she begins to realize that there is power in her knowledge of what’s to come. She ultimately tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler to try and prevent World War II, a scene which opens the novel and makes you wonder throughout the read which iteration of Ursula’s life will take her to this climactic moment.

Although this novel is set against two world wars, it’s not a novel that speculates how history would have been changed if Hitler might never have existed. Instead, the novel shows how important your own life is to you, and to your family (and yes, the world too, but to a much smaller degree). It gives importance to that subset of feelings that we so often try to simply brush aside—that sometimes unshakable desire to revisit the shoulda woulda couldas that can drive you nuts—and at once encourages you to daydream how your life might be different. In doing so, it reassures you that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already been victorious over death in countless ways you probably didn’t even realize.

This novel is also wonderfully crafted. Each time Ursula is born anew certain other key details have shifted, and although the supporting characters are all warped accordingly they are still immediately recognizable. It goes without saying that few talented writers can pull this off so flawlessly. I loved the writing, I loved the subject matter, I loved spending time with the characters. This novel left my head in the clouds, imagining how my life could be different, if I’d ever want it to be, what my true place in the cosmos is, and what really is happiness, anyway?

The competition, Delirium, takes place in Bogota in the 1980’s. It follows Aguilar, an ex-professor of literature who now sells Purina dog chow, who returns from a weekend away to find that his wife, Augustina, has suffered a mental breakdown in a hotel somewhere. The novel is told from four different perspectives—Aguilar, Augustina, her ex-lover/cartel money launderer Midas, and Augustina’s grandparents, whose POV is written in third person. Aguilar teams up with Anita, a tough, no-nonsense maid from the hotel where Augustina is found, to find out why Augustina was at the hotel and who she was with. At the same time, Augustina’s long-estranged Aunt Sofi appears and fills Aguilar in to Augustina’s tumultuous upbringing, her ability to see into the future, and how she would stop at nothing to protect her brother Bichi from being brutally beaten by her father (which happened often). Aunt Sofi also reveals the event that ultimately split their family apart and shattered Augustina’s mental health.

My experience reading Delirium was much more grounded than Life After Life. The driving force of the novel is trying to make sense of Augustina’s madness, and she can easily be interpreted as a metaphor for Colombia’s own deeply fractured self at the time, under the control of the cartel. But, it’s so much more than that— it’s about family, loyalty, love and heartbreak (I teared up when the narrator encounters his ex wife and her sons and realizes that she still has all of his clothing hanging neatly in their closet) and at the same time completely laugh-out-loud goofy (the impetus for Midas’s narrative is figuring out how to get his recently paralyzed friend to have an erection, basically). The reading experience can be slightly disorienting at times because it switches between narrators without any clear indication, and often Augustina refers to herself in the third person. Natasha Wimmer’s translation is excellent, though, and once you get a feel for each character’s voice it’s clear enough (and fun to figure out who is talking). I also personally love reading anything featuring a woman on the verge, and I think there’s something deeper to be said about our fascination with the mentally unstable female . . . but that’s an essay for another time. Maybe.

How do two wildly different yet equally supreme novels compete? By boiling them down to cheesy soccer metaphors, of course. Since there are no draws in this round, I choose Delirium as the winner, due to it’s streamlined complexity and ability to incorporate cheerful relief into an otherwise serious storyline. It made me laugh more often. Life After Life is gorgeously written, but it’s pretty bleak up until the very end.

This match ends tied 2-2 as both novels trade gracefully executed points, but Delirium pulls through with a final merciless goal in stoppage time.

Final score: Delirium – 3, Life After Life – 2.

*

Next up, Colombia’s Delirium will face off against Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft on Saturday, June 27th.

Tomorrow’s match will be judged by Meredith Miller, and features Brazil’s Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa up against Costa Rica’s Assault on Paradise by Tatiana Lobo.

2 September 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

And just like that, school’s back in session.

Having students back on campus brings up so many complicated feelings. Annoyance being the first and more obvious. It’s super irritating that from one day to the next it becomes infinitely more difficult to find a parking place for you bike, that you have to wait in line at Starbucks and listen to awkward exchanges from freshman who are still trying out different personalities and trying to define themselves—mostly through failure (“Hey, Jenny, have you seen where the Bio Med building is?” “Not yet.” “It’s hella over that way.” “You say ‘hella’?” “Yeah. Sometimes I say ‘wicked cool’ as well.”), that a whole new range of job-related functions start up again (I finished and posted my syllabus early yesterday evening), that work schedules become more rigid and sneaking away for happy hour is nearly impossible.

Labor Day usually seems like such a depressing holiday for that very reason. Hell yeah—Labor Day! All the times of summer irresponsibility are over! Back to school and back to work! Grill me a hot dog and gimme a beer! It’s like the ultimate capitalist backhanded compliment-slash-fuck you.

It might be due to all the travel I did this summer—and random multi-day bike rides possibly because of my advancing age, or the Simpsons marathon I’ve been bingeing on, but I’m sort of excited about the “regular schedule” aspect the new school year brings about.

The season premier of The League is on Wednesday. I’m drafting in a fantasy football league tonight. All the big books/albums are coming out now—David Mitchell, alt-J, even Haruki Murakami. The St. Louis Cardinals are in first place. A lot more people are wearing unbroken-in clothes. The hallways at the university are as clean as old, rundown shit can be. My daughter just bought four thousand new three-subject notebooks. Every year, these same things happen.

I think it might be a bit of nostalgia creeping in, but for the first time in ages, all of this seems more comforting than depressing—like the words “autumn sweater.” So rather than lament the end of beach days and bike rides and staying up all night, I’m going to try and embrace the routine for once.

Including getting over-excited about all the new books that are coming out over the next few months.

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions)

Let’s start here with the latest (and last? well, probably not . . .) Bolaño book. Mostly I just want to remind everyone that Tom Roberge and I will be discussing this on the September 26th edition of the Three Percent Podcast. We’re hoping to more of these “book club” episodes and would love to hear from all of you about what you thought of the book, questions you might have, etc. So please email us at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

Into the War”: by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Remember when every post about a Houghton Mifflin book opened with a slew of insults against their insufferably bad website? Well, apparently I’ve grown up a bit, but not enough to refrain from pointing out that their company website is still a hopeless pile of shit. How bad is it exactly? This is their “Author Detail Page” for Italo Calvino. If a website was flammable, I’d light it on fire.

Last month, Peter Mendelsund—the designer of all the new Calvino covers—published his first book, What We See When We Read, a fully-illustrated meditation on the relationship between reading and internal visualization. It’s not as weighty as I would’ve personally liked, but it’s thought provoking and deserves a wide audience. He also gets bonus points for including a quote from Gilbert Sorrentino slamming John Updike.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)

This is the third of the “Neapolitan Novels,” and for a limited time, you can buy the ebook versions of the first two—My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name—for only $2.99. Just visit your favorite ebook retailer and go crazy.

Running a bit counter to my “regular schedule” joy above, I kind of appreciate the fact that I’ve waited so long to start Ferrante’s trilogy, so that I can binge on it now without having to wait a year for the next installment. It’s kind of stupid to make this comparison, but Netflix has totally fucked up our consumption habits in relation to series. Although most books still slump along at a reasonable pace, with new titles coming out every year or more, we’ve come to expect TV seasons to be available all at once, or, as is the case with a lot of people I know, we just wait until the whole season has played itself out and then binge watch everything over a weekend. It’s lunacy, but fits with the everythingnowallatonce mentality of the twenty-first century.

Books don’t work all that well with this sort of binge behavior, although FSG’s experiment with Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy”—publishing all three books in the same year, the first in March, second in May, third in September—demonstrates a willingness on the part of traditional publishers to try and take advantage of our inclinations.

Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier, translated from the French by Jane Aitken (Gallic Books)

It occurs to me that publishing—at least in my little corner of it—has a sort of four-season cycle: Summer is vacations and half-day Fridays; Fall is conventions, Frankfurt, and being overwhelmed in advance of holiday sales; Winter is bookstores and publishers making bank before falling into a deep depression of either grant writing (if you’re a nonprofit) or bemoaning the lack of walk-in customers; Spring is when you prepare the lies for the rest of the year, bragging it all up at BookExpo America and sales conference. Then, Summer Fridays and hoping to see someone reading one of your books on the beach.

Nowhere People by Paulo Scott, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (And Other Stories)

After reading the first 40 pages of this, I decided that I have to use it in my spring class on “World Literature and Transaltion.” I can usually include six to eight new translations in this class, but so far the only two I’ve decided on are Seiobo There Below and Nowhere People. Seiobo since it won last year’s Best Translated Book Award, obviously. Nowhere People is kind of perfect since it’s Brazilian and, in the first 40 pages alone, features a host of “translation” issues: it opens in Porto Alegre, rather than Rio of São Paolo; two magazines are referenced that Americans probably have never heard of, Trip and DUNDUM, the latter of which comes up in this sentence, “what girl from the interior would be sitting blithely reading DUNDUM in this place, the absolute domain of middle-aged men?” which raises a few questions; the main character picks up a Guarani Indian from the side of the road, opening up discussions about Brazilian culture and racisms; and there are a few Britishisms, such as “he goes back to the main road, takes the correct turning.” Not to mention, the book is really intriguing and Daniel Hahn is fucking brilliant. Now I just have to convince him to Skype with my class . . .

I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated from the German by Sheila Dickie (New Vessel Press)

I’m not a fan of the title of this book—there’s something too YA about it, as if it’s going to contain the adventures of a quirky girl who calls herself Princess Frog and whose best friend committed suicide, which is why her group of unlikely cohorts called him “necktie”—but it got a ton of love at the Consortium sales conference, and New Vessel has stellar taste, so I’m 100% sure the content outweighs my weird title prejudice. Also interesting that it’s a book set in Japan written by a woman born to an Austrian father and Japanese mother who writes in German.

A Thousand Forests in One Acorn by Valerie Miles, translated from the Spanish by a number of great translators (Open Letter)

One of the most beautiful—and weighty—books we’ve ever published. And one that you’re going to be hearing about every single day this month until you finally buy a copy. (Just do it now! You won’t regret it.) Since our daily posts from the book will do a much better job of explaining this than I ever can, I want to use this opportunity to point out that this is the third title we’ve published that has “thousand” in the title. That’s called cornering the market.

Also, we started working on this book over two years ago. The editing process was intense, and every single person involved in this—Will Vanderhyden for all his editorial work, all the various interns who put up with the paperwork and word-by-word proofing I assigned them, Nate for his killer design, the Spain-USA for their support and for setting up all the upcoming events—deserves a special shout-out. Every hour that we put into is worth it, and I’m sure that everyone who ends up buying, reading, and teaching this, will totally agree.

Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated from French by Jessica Moore (Talonbooks)

This reminds me a bit of Tom’s rant from last week’s Three Percent Podcast episode about Salton Sea and humans fucking up nature by trying to build something like a lake:

Told on a sweeping scale reminiscent of classic American adventure films, this Médicis Prize–winning novel chronicles the lives of these workers, who represent a microcosm of not just mythic California, but of humanity as a whole. Their collective effort to complete the megaproject recounts one of the oldest of human dramas, to domesticate—and to radically transform—our world through built form, with all the dramatic tension it brings: a threatened strike, an environmental dispute, sabotage, accidents, career moves, and love affairs . . . Here generations and social classes cease to exist, and everyone and everything converges toward the bridge as metaphor, a cross-cultural impression of America today.

(Or it’s totally different.)

Rain over Madrid by Andres Barba, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Hispabooks Publishing)

Hispabooks just keeps on crushing it. I have to say, for all my deep-rooted cynicism, this is a great time for indie presses. Hispabooks, Deep Vellum, New Vessel, Restless all launched within the past couple years. With those four presses alone, an average reader has enough material to last all year.

Digression: The other week I was hanging out with my parents and they were talking about how my cousin was “so rich” that he bought his own house in Chippewa Falls, WI. Which, after a bit of Wikipediaing led to all of us coining the term “Wisconsin Rich.” Sure, this was mostly a joke, but in a way, it’s also a powerful concept—being a certain level of “rich” that allows you to live comfortably. We don’t all need to be “Silicon Valley Rich.” I’m happy being “University Rich,” and as such, can continue spending more time trying to pass along knowledge than trying to hustle up some additional bling. (Or whatever the kids say.) So, in a way, even though the whole 3% thing is shitty and myopic and pretty pathetic, we are “Translation Rich” when it comes to reading. All of you could read only translations all year long and you’ll never run out of good material. That’s reassuring in a way.

In terms of Barba, he was one of Granta’s best young writers and is someone Lisa Dillman (who is lovely and talented) has been talking up for years. I believe Hispabooks is doing a number of his works, which is even better, since this collection of four short stories is likely to leave readers wanting more.

Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sánchez Piñol, translated from the Catalan by WHO KNOWS (Rupert Murdoch Sucks)

Fuck you, HarperCollins. Just fuck. You.

First of all, thanks for not sending the review copy of this that I asked for. Really appreciate that. Then again, given both reviews you’ve received for this book, obviously you don’t need anyone else to champion it.

Secondly, Piñol obviously didn’t write this in English, but you would never know that given HarperCollins’s website, a website that might have just set the bar for the worst corporate website ever. (Houghton Mifflin can rejoice!) Not only is there no info about the translator—which, fine, you don’t want to put it on the book because American readers are stupid and either a) will be more likely to buy this if they think Piñol is a traditional Texas name, or b) just don’t deserve that information, because fuck ‘em that’s why—but when you click “enlarge cover image” you get that placeholder pictured above. Con-fucking-grats at being the worst at marketing your own books!

Also, this:


That’s a fine sentiment, but coming from Rupert Murdoch, it just sounds ridiculous. Just a reminder, this is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, and whose employees were involved in a “phone-hacking and police-bribery scandal.“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_International_phone_hacking_scandal We live in a world in which people retweet Rupert Murdoch because he’s “standing up for the little guy.” The world is nonsense.

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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