5 February 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Katherine Rucker on The Missing Years of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal, translated by Nick Caistor, from New Vessel Press.

Katherine is another of the students in the University of Rochester’s MA in Literary Translation Studies program, whose name you may recognize from this recent post asking for any information on non-Argentine Spanish lit. In addition to bringing some very interesting samples into our Plüb Translation Workshop, Katherine has a knowledge of whiskeys not to be trifled with (being raised in Kentucky), and owns a baby donkey back home.

Here’s a little bit from Katherine’s review:

Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full ones. It’s a novel where the things that are left out are just as important as the pieces we’re given. Through a series of vignette-like chapters which are set, unlike most contemporary Argentine novels, outside of the scope of Buenos Aires, Mairal shows us what life is like in the parts of the country that don’t get as much attention. Life in the small village of Barrancales centers around sneaking things across the Uruguayan border, fishing on the bank of the river, and crazy old men whose shotguns have been rigged so they can’t actually shoot innocent passersby. There’s also an old shed that’s been locked and abandoned for years, protecting sixty canvas scrolls from the weather.

It’s these scrolls the protagonist, Miguel, is after when he returns to the village following the death of his parents. That’s when he unearths the life work of his late father, Juan Salvatierra: a continuous mural that begins shortly after the accident that rendered the artist mute and carries on until just days before his death. The sequence—dreamlike, beautiful, at times laden with artistic metaphor, speaks about what Salvatierra himself couldn’t.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 February 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”

Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full ones. It’s a novel where the things that are left out are just as important as the pieces we’re given. Through a series of vignette-like chapters which are set, unlike most contemporary Argentine novels, outside of the scope of Buenos Aires, Mairal shows us what life is like in the parts of the country that don’t get as much attention. Life in the small village of Barrancales centers around sneaking things across the Uruguayan border, fishing on the bank of the river, and crazy old men whose shotguns have been rigged so they can’t actually shoot innocent passersby. There’s also an old shed that’s been locked and abandoned for years, protecting sixty canvas scrolls from the weather.

It’s these scrolls the protagonist, Miguel, is after when he returns to the village following the death of his parents. That’s when he unearths the life work of his late father, Juan Salvatierra: a continuous mural that begins shortly after the accident that rendered the artist mute and carries on until just days before his death. The sequence—dreamlike, beautiful, at times laden with artistic metaphor, speaks about what Salvatierra himself couldn’t:

I think he saw his work as something too personal, a kind of intimate diary, an illustrated autobiography. Possibly because he was mute, he needed to tell himself his own story. To recount his own experience in one never-ending mural. He was content with painting his own life, he had no need to show it. For him, living his life was to paint it.

What Miguel and his brother don’t find among the scrolls in the shed is one of a painting, which seems to have been stolen. Miguel has reason to believe that this particular scroll was the same one he vaguely remembers being slashed by one of his father’s friends during a whiskey-fueled, though otherwise inexplicable, duel. As it turns out, Salvatierra’s “missing year” was a little more intriguing than anyone wants to expect of their docile, artistic father.

Mairal’s prose, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor, reflects the missing painting: honest, powerful, haunting. In a mere 116 pages, the reader confronts the truth and mystery of the things that we leave behind. The novel seems to rely on the principle of omission—Mairal doesn’t so much tell his readers everything as he does leave them wondering.

The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is ultimately satisfying despite its loose ends, beautiful despite its sometimes ugly themes.

15 May 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One of the exciting new trends in publishing is the consolidation of mega-companies to create a totally misbalanced marketplace that mimics the unequal distribution of wealth in America that anyone who loves freedom obviously agrees with.

Well, that or the new ways that international titles are finding their way into the U.S., especially in the form of ebooks brought to you by young, exciting companies like Frisch & Co. (more on them tomorrow) and New Vessel Press.

Oh, and fuck your corporation. Or, in the immortal words of Stephen Malkmus, “Force fed integration from the corporation, I don’t need this corporation attitude.”

Digressions aside, I think it’s great that new publishers dedicated to international literature are sprouting up here and abroad, and increasing our access to interesting writing. New Vessel is one of the more ambitious (along with Deep Vellum, about which, more some other day), and has a pretty Three Percent-y mission:

New Vessel Press, founded in New York City in 2012, is an independent publishing house specializing in the translation of foreign literature into English. Today, only about three percent of the books available in the American marketplace are translations. In a globalized world, shouldn’t our choice of books be global as well? By bringing readers foreign literature and literary non-fiction as ebooks, we offer wonderful works for a very affordable price, and in a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing format. But of course, what matters most is not where the authors hail from, or what language they write in. The most important thing is the quality of the work itself. And hence our name. We publish great books, just in a new vessel.

Knowledge of foreign languages and literatures enriches our lives, offering passageways to understand and embrace the world. But corporate mergers are shrinking publishing outlets, and English increasingly predominates as the lingua franca. We believe that literary translation is both craft and art, enabling us to traverse borders and open minds. We are committed to books that offer erudition and pleasure, provoke and scintillate, transform and transport.

Missions are great, but what’s most important are the books themselves, and their first list of six titles is rather impressive.

  • Some Day by Shemi Zarhin, translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan.

Some Day is a family saga in which the characters find themselves caught in cycles of repetition, as if they were “rhymes in a poem, cursed with history.” They are victims of everyday magic—enchanted recipes that bring happiness and tragedy to the cooks and diners, mysterious curses that cause people’s hair to fall out and their necks to swell, capitulation to sexual desire, eliminating rational thought and giving way to unhealthy urges.

Robert and Jacob are two down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1950s. They’re planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country with her young son. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, exiled from their native land and adrift in the hot, nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into Mary, an American widow, who has enough trouble with her young son to keep her occupied all day. Her heart is open though, and the men are hoping her wallet is too. What follows is a story of love, deception, cruelty and shame, as Jacob pretends to fall in love with the American. But it’s not just Jacob who seems to be performing a role; nearly all the characters are actors in an ugly story, complete with parts for murder and suicide.

In 1776 Fanny von Arnstein, the daughter of the Jewish master of the royal mint in Berlin, came to Vienna as an 18-year-old bride. She brought with her the intellectual sharpness and vitality of her birthplace. As the daughter of a wealthy Prussian Jew, she was influenced by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a family friend who spearheaded the emancipation of German Jewry. She married a financier to the Austro-Hungarian imperial court, and in 1798 her husband became the first unconverted Jew in Austria to be granted the title of baron. Soon Fanny hosted an ever more splendid salon which attracted the leading figures of the Enlightenment.

At the age of nine, Juan Salvatierra became mute following a horse riding accident. At twenty, he began secretly painting a series of long rolls of canvas in which he minutely detailed six decades of life in his village on Argentina’s river frontier with Uruguay. After the death of Salvatierra, his sons return to the village from Buenos Aires to deal with their inheritance: a shed packed with painted rolls stretching over two miles in length and depicting personal and communal history. Museum curators from Europe come calling to acquire this strange, gargantuan artwork. But an essential one of its rolls is missing. A search that illuminates the links between art and life ensues, as an intrigue of family secrets buried in the past cast their shadows on the present.

  • Cocaine by Pitigrilli, translated from the Italian by Eric Mosbacher.

Paris in the 1920s – dizzy and decadent. Where a young man can make a fortune with his wits . . . unless he is led into temptation. Cocaine’s dandified hero Tito Arnaudi invents lurid scandals and gruesome deaths, and sells these stories to the newspapers. But his own life becomes even more outrageous than his press reports when he acquires three demanding mistresses. Elegant, witty and wicked, Pitigrilli’s classic novel was first published in Italian in 1921 and charts the comedy and tragedy of a young man’s downfall and the lure of a bygone era. The novel’s descriptions of sex and drug use prompted church authorities to place it on a list of “forbidden” books, while appealing to filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder who wrote a script based on the tale.

The Good Life Elsewhere is a very funny book. It is also a very sad one. In it, Moldovan writer Vladimir Lorchenkov tells the story of a group of villagers and their tragicomic efforts, against all odds and at any cost, to emigrate from Europe’s most impoverished nation to Italy for work. This is a book with wild imagination and heartbreaking honesty, grim appraisals alongside optimistic commentary about the nature of human striving.

For now, you can preorder all of these via the New Vessel website, and in the near future, all the titles will be listed on your electronic vending platform of choice. And be sure to “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

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