5 March 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This isn’t exactly books related, but in case you’re one of the millions of people of people who have come across this photo recently (like on HuffPo, HLN TV, Reddit, Daily Mail The Sun, Bored Panda, the oft-ridiculed Flavorwire, and several others), I have two things to tell you:

1) Yes, that is a copy of Ricardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker, which is published by Open Letter; and,

2) Yes, that is Open Letter editor Kaija Straumanis, whose series of “Headshots” have gone totally viral (over 3 million visits to her Flickr page in just over 24 hours).

Congrats to Kaija! Hopefully some percentage of these visits will buy one of her photos or her translation of High Tide or the Vilnius Poker website.

8 January 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of World Literature Today is now available, and filled with great stuff (an interview with Anne Carson, feature on Naomi Shihab Nye, profile of 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature winner Mia Couto, a feature on Arabic books for teens), but in addition to the magazine, WLT has an outstanding blog and just today ran a feature on Open Letter author Inga Ābele:

Inga Ābele, born in 1972 in Riga, has written plays and screenplays, collections of poetry, stories and novels. Her play Dark Deer was staged in Latvia, at the Stuttgart State Theatre, the Bonner Biennale, and in Greece, being made a feature film in 2006. Iron Weed was staged in Latvia, Denmark, and Finland; Jasmine premiered in Latvia and was staged in Lucerne. Her poetry collections include Night Pragmatist and a collection of prose poems, The Horses of Atgazene Station. Her 2001 novel, Fire Will Not Wake You, was published in Lithuanian in 2007. Her story collection Notes During the Time of Snow won the Annual Award for Literature in 2004, and another collection, Still Life with Pomegranate, was published in French translation in 2005. Ābele’s 2008 novel High Tide was published in in Swedish translation in 2009 and in English translation in 2013.

I’m going to interrupt here to remind you that Open Letter was the press that published High Tide, and it was translated by our editor, Kaija Straumanis.

In other words: You should really buy this book. (You can even get the ebook directly from our site for a mere $9.99.)

This interview is as much about Inga’s life out in the country as it is about Lativan literature, but, and I’m sure Kaija can back this up, Inga’s living arrangement sounds pretty ideal:

Seven years ago Ābele left Riga to live in deep in the forest near Sigulde, site of an ancient castle, with her hot-air balloonist partner, Gunars Dukste. [. . .] They live on a smallholding that belonged to a baron in the 1800s: wild boars come at night to dig up the lush grass with their snouts and eat it. A tower is set up for a neighboring hunter who hasn’t had any luck yet. They’ve built a perfect, snug house on the foundations of what was once the cattle shed, with the weathered old outbuildings still standing about, a great stack of wood ready for winter. Gunars takes haunting photos of the countryside of Latvia while floating over it.

Another interruption: Gunars’s book of hot air balloon photos will be available in English in the not-too-distant future. (Kaija also translated this.) More info on that in a future post.

And finally, about Inga’s forthcoming books:

She is finishing up a novel titled The Wicker Monk, which has been three years in the writing. The “wicker” in the title comes from the way in Latgale, where the protagonist lives a life of celibacy, everything is woven together for strength, large families hold together. After that she has a contract to write a historical novel about collectivism in the 1950s in Latvia, due to be finished in 2015.

Maybe Open Letter will bring out one-both of these in the future . . . But for now—check out High Tide: it’s a stunning book that combines lush, provocative prose with a gripping plot about a love triangle and a killing. (Although this plot is told in semi-reverse chronological order . . . so the killing only makes sense at the end of the book. It’s like an anti-mystery novel, I suppose.)

31 January 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

I’d like to talk a bit about submissions.

Because I’ve had a very stressful and involved week of cataloging, catching up with, and responding to every single submission Open Letter has received since essentially July of last year, I’m a little on the edge right now when it comes to submitters repeatedly asking about their translation samples. And by on edge I mean I had a few minutes of snapping this morning, and thus decided that a nice, public rant about the whole submission process was wholly appropriate. And by appropriate I mean god damn necessary.

The ideal situation would be for people who submit to our press, or to any other press, to understand a little something about the process behind it and how the world does not revolve entirely around their samples. It’s so much more than one person with a questionable fashion sense and a warm carton of orange juice sitting in a back room with stacks upon stacks of “slush pile” material to sort through. At least for us it is.

Open Letter is not unlike many small, independent presses in that we are, essentially, a three-person operation (this not including semester- or summer-long interns). As editor, it falls into MY duties to receive every single submission sent to Open Letter. It doesn’t matter if you address an email or envelope to Chad, or to Nate, because it’s all going to end up on my desk and in my inbox. And I get to look at every single one of them. And because I am, surprisingly, a polite and considerate person by nature, I reply to every. Single. One of them. And because I am, surprisingly, just ONE person, it’s going to take me a while to get back to every query.

So, first and foremost, if you’ve ever submitted—not just to us, but to any press—and have yet to receive a reply to your query: BACK. OFF. Seriously. Take 20 deep breaths, count to 10, go for a walk, make yourself a sandwich, a tasty one. But honestly, please just back off. We’re working on it.

Read More...

15 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Tom and I will record our “official” 2013 preview podcast tomorrow, so you can look forward to that, but as a way of upping the number of books we can talk about on the blog, I’d like to start a weekly “preview” column. Something that may not always be that serious, yet will at least give some space to recently released or forthcoming titles. I’m sure that this will evolve over the next X number of weeks, so please cut me some slack on these first few . . .

Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan. Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. University of Oklahoma/Chinese Literature Today. $24.95

Jonathan Stalling of Chinese Literature Today — which really probably definitely shouldn’t be abbreviated as “CLT” . . and yes, I am 12 — spent a good 10-15 minutes of MLA explaining to me why this book was so awesome. I forget all the plot details, but I do remember the bit about an executioner taking someone apart over a series of pages . . . So, to go along with the almost nauseating amounts of meat mastication in Pow!, readers coming to Mo Yan post-Nobel Prize also have the option to read about the “gruesome ‘sandalwood punishment,’ whose purpose, as in crucifixions, is to keep the condemned individual alive in mind-numbing pain as long as possible.”

I have to say, the more I read about Mo Yan’s books, the more I dig him . . . And I’m really looking forward to reading this before teaching Pow! in my Translation & World Literature class this spring.

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of book trailers, but I have to admit, the one that CLT did for this is really pretty elegant and cool in an anime sort of way.

I have more to post about Chinese Literature Today, but I’ll save that for later. For anyone interested in checking this out, here’s a link to a sample of the novel.

The Eleven by Pierre Michon. Translated from the French by Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays. Archipelago Books. $18.

The only thing I know about Pierre Michon is that one of his earlier novels, Small Lives, which is also published by Archipelago, is loved by basically everyone.

For a while I was creating a playlist on Spotify of songs with numbers in them. Things like “Water” by Poster Children, or “Slow Show” by The National, or “Airplane Rider” by Air Miami (a personal favorite), or “Universal Speech” by The Go! Team, or whatever. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about people yelling out numbers (or referencing a particular age, as in The National song) that does it for me. It’s one of my “secret cues” that cause me to almost always love a song. (That and hand clapping. And sing-along choruses.)

I don’t think that same thing works for me with book titles. But Fifty Shades of Gray? Maybe this is some sort of subconscious tic . . . (Like A Thousand Morons! Or A Thousand Peaceful Cities.)

18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. Open Letter Books. $15.95

A few months back, Zack called Nate and I to talk a bit about plans for his book and marketing and all that. In the course of the conversation, he told us about his elderly friend who was anxious to get a copy of his book.

“She called me the other day and said she’s seen it on the table at the bookstore and was really excited for me. I told her that it couldn’t possibly be my book. That my book hadn’t been printed. But she was convinced. ‘No, no, it was your book, Zack. And it’s pretty dirty!’ Only then I realized she was talking about Fifty Shades . . . “

All books containing a number and the color “gray” are the same! If only we could somehow use this to our advantage . . . Should’ve included that choker necktie on the cover.

That said, Zack’s book does have a spot of banging in it. It’s more of a nostalgic, romantic book than an erotic one, but there is something sexy about a good number of the scenes. Especially the conversations between the protagonist and his now-missing wife that take place while he’s photographing her . . .

So yes, if your sister/mother/grandmother/aunt is done with that other series, recommend 18% Gray to them. Besides, Zack is WAY hotter than E.L. James. (Although he might not be quite as loaded.)

27 November 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first set of Art Works grants from the NEA were announced this morning, and I’m incredibly giddy about the fact that Open Letter was awarded $45,000 for the following:

To support the publication and promotion of books in translation and the continuation of the translation website Three Percent. Works from Germany, Denmark, Bulgaria, Italy, Iceland, and Greece will be translated. The website features 50-70 book reviews per year; the Best Translated Book Awards; and posts on international awards, new works, opportunities for translators, the future and business of publishing, and book culture in general.

To make that a bit more specific, this grant will primarily support the publication and promotion of these five titles:

Two or Three Years Later by Ror Wolf, translated from the German by Jennifer Marquart;

This Is the Garden by Guilio Mozzi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris;

The Last Days of My Mother by Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Helga Soffía Einarsdóttir;

When We Leave Each Other by Henrik Nordbrandt, translated from the Danish by Patrick Phillips; and,

Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich.

We’ll be posting more information about all these titles as they become available (the Nordbrant poems will be coming out first, in April as part of National Poetry Month), and posting excerpts, etc.

So far, this has been a great week for Open Letter . . . And I recommend checking out the full list of literary organizations receiving NEA funding—it’s an absolutely stellar list of some of the best nonprofit lit orgs in the country.

27 September 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

So, yesterday was the official release date for Benjamin Stein’s The Canvas, one of the most curiously designed Open Letter books to date. With two openings, and myriad ways to read it, you can read a totally different Canvas at the same time as your friend:

The novel consists of two narratives: Amnon Zichroni’s depiction of growing up in an orthodox Jewish family, and his eventual realization of his “gift” to see people’s memories; and, Jan Wechsler’s quest to recover his missing memories after receiving a mysterious briefcase with information about his past. These two stories play off each other in subtle ways, and it’s not until the very end of the book (or middle, if you prefer) that you find out how the two character intersect . . .

To celebrate this (and my birthday, which is why we always publish a book on September 26th), we’re offering The Canvas for free to all new Open Letter subscribers. If you’ve been thinking about signing up—and who hasn’t? what could be better than receiving an excellent work in translation every month—this is the time. You’ll get 6 books for $60 or 11 for $100, which is just an insanely good bargain.

So since up for the savings, and stay for the literature.

Or just sign up as a birthday present to me. Please?

2 July 12 | Sarah Winstein-Hibbs | Comments

Click here to read the latest issue of Aldus, a new literary translation journal from Brown University. The pioneers behind this ambitious new publication are Three Percent contributors Matthew Weiss and Tim Nassau. Tim’s also a former Open Letter intern, and recently reviewed Tomas Tranströmer’s The Deleted World.

In this issue you’ll find a conversation between Steven T. Murray, translator of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and his wife and fellow translator, Tiina Nunnally. Also included in this edition: translations from Forrest Gander, winner of the 2012 Best Translated Book Award for his translation of Kiwao Nomura’s Spectacle and Pigsty ; translations by Lytton Smith, translator of Children in Reindeer Woods and The Ambassador (both published by Open Letter); and new works by C.D. Wright, Susan Bernofsky, Andrei Codrescu, and Andrew Barrett – as well as a piece or two by Tim himself.

22 June 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

Hi there!

I’m Aleksandra Fazlipour, although I typically go by Alek. Chad introduced me before, but I finally got registered as a contributor to the site, so it’s my turn to do it again!

I started doing an independent study at Open Letter in January in an attempt to fill out a Creative Writing minor that I took alongside two degrees: one in Brain and Cognitive Science, and the other in Linguistics. I’ve always loved to read, and I’m a native speaker of Polish, so it just seemed natural to get some credits for reading and reviewing translated works.

I expected to like it.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with it. It was classwork, after all. . .

But all of a sudden, my assignments didn’t feel like homework anymore. Granted, it was terrifying at first to have my reviews ripped to shreds by Chad, but I got over that quickly, and I still am surprised and exhilarated whenever I see one of my own reviews online. And they are much better than they started out as, courtesy of all of Chad’s advice!

So when the opportunity to intern at Open Letter was presented to me, I snatched it right up.

Now, having graduated from the University of Rochester, here I am! I’ll be taking over as the threepercent book review editor until the end of August.

If what I’ll be doing for the rest of the summer is anything like what I’ve been doing thus far, it’ll include a lot of coffee-drinking and copious soaking-up-of incredible books. It’s an added bonus to be able to get an early peek at the wonderful reviews I’ll be posting throughout the summer.

Sometimes I also stick labels to books and envelopes and send out stuff. Surprisingly, I enjoy that. It reminds me of sticker books.

Some random things about me: I bop around Open Letter wearing teddy bear sweaters and blouses embroidered to look like a Lite Brite. And I wear big glasses. I am often hard to overlook. In my free time I write short stories. I am handy with spreadsheets. I like kittens until I start sneezing because of said kittens, and then I like them decidedly less. Sometimes I’m too brutally honest for my own good and for other people’s feelings. It hasn’t become a huge problem yet. Nothing wrong with being passionate, right? I’d like to think it shows in my reviews.

Most of all though, I really adore working at Open Letter, and I hope that shows too! Feel free to comment here or send me an email (Aleksandra.fazlipour@gmail.com) if you have any questions or concerns about any of my posts, or if you just want to chat! I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.

‘Til then, enjoy threepercent!

18 June 12 | Sarah Winstein-Hibbs | Comments

I’m Sarah Winstein-Hibbs – nicknamed “quantum Sarah” by Chad, who thinks my weird hyphenated last name sounds like some kind of subatomic particle – and I’m an English Literature major at University of Rochester. I’m interning at Open Letter this summer, so I’ll be posting on threepercent throughout June, July, and August. I had the great opportunity to write an upcoming review Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story, a shocking novel on the atrocity of the Argentinian Dirty War. Also watch for a joint review I’m writing with with super awesome co-star Sarah Young, on Italian novelist Alessandro Baricco’s haunting and lyrical new work, Emmaus.

A little bit about me: I love the arts, I love learning about different cultures, I love reading and writing and playing flute. I got interested in Open Letter when I took International Fiction last semester and read Kafka, Borges, Marquez, Nabokov, and Calvino. I’ve also studied Spanish literature and language, so Open Letter speaks to my interests in that regard, as well. Speaking of which, my big summer project will be reading and reviewing a forthcoming anthology of Spanish literature, featuring both renowned and newly-acclaimed authors. In the music realm, I’m a performer and avid fan of classical music. I also serve as co-artistic director for an exciting new project called Sound ExChange Orchestra, an innovative ensemble dedicated to the proliferation of classical music in contemporary American society (click here to read more!) I’m super excited to be involved in Open Letter this summer and am looking forward to sharing lots of good reads and good conversation with you all!

31 May 12 | Will Evans | Comments

Friend of Three Percent, Lisa Hayden Espenschade, who runs the incredible Russian literature blog Lizok’s Bookshelf posted the shortlist for the über-prestigious Big Book (Bol’shaya Kniga) Prize. Big Book is one of the “big three” Russian literary prizes, along with the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller (or NatsBest).

Our old Open Letter pal Mikhail Shishkin won the Big Book last year for his Letter-Book (Pis’movnik), with Vladimir Sorokin’s The Blizzard (Metel’) coming in second and Dmitry Bykov’s Ostromov, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Ostromov, ili Uchenik charodeya) coming in third. The Big Book Prize fund distributes 6.1 million rubles (~$183k) annually among the first, second, and third prize winners, and is sponsored by a number of Russian businesses and banks along with the Russian Ministries of Culture and Print, Media and Mass Broadcasting.

There will be a Big Book Prize presentation event at Book Expo American next Thursday at 10am featuring past winners Mikhail Shishkin, Dmitry Bykov, Vladimir Makanin, Pavel Basinsky, and, supposedly, the Big Book finalists:The way the wording on Read Russia’s website describes the event (“Big Book Prize: Presentation of the Big Book Prize, Russia’s most prestigious literary award, plus a “Meet and Greet” with prize winners.”), I still can’t tell if they are really planning on announcing the 2012 Big Book winner at BEA, which would be awesome, or if they were just trying to present to an American audience the idea of the Big Book Award and will make the announcement for the prize winner in November, as stated in Russian media reports.

The shortlist features a number of readers whom neither I nor Lisa have read, both of us are only familiar with Prilepin’s Black Monkey, so we have a lot to catch up on before the prizewinner is (allegedly) announced in November! Without any further ado, here is the shortlist, in English no less (!), with transliteration and translation provided by Lisa herself.

  • Maria Galina: Медведки (Mole-Crickets)
  • Daniil Granin: Мой лейтенант… (My Lieutenant . . .)
  • Aleksandr Grigorenko: Мэбэт. История человека тайги (Mebet. The Story of a Person from the Taiga)
  • Vladimir Gubailovsky: Учитель цинизма (The Teacher of Cynicism)
  • Andrei Dmitriev: Крестьянин и тинейджер (The Peasant and the Teenager)
  • Aleksandr Kabakov, Evgenii Popov: Аксёнов (Aksyonov)
  • Vladimir Makanin: Две сестры и Кандинский (Two Sisters and Kandinsky)
  • Sergei Nosov: Франсуаза, или Путь к леднику (Françoise, Or the Way to the Glacier)
  • Valerii Popov: Плясать досмерти (To Dance to Death)
  • Zakhar Prilepin: Чёрная обезьяна (The Black Monkey)
  • Andrei Rubanov: Стыдные подвиги (Shameful Feats/Exploits)
  • Marina Stepnova: Женщины Лазаря (The Women of Lazarus/Lazarus’s Women)
  • Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov): «Несвятые святые» и другие рассказы (“Unsaintly Saints” and Other Stories)
  • Lena Eltang: Другие барабаны (Other Drums)

A huge thanks to Lisa for her tireless work in alerting English readers to what’s going on in the world of Russian literature. Check out her posts for reviews and insider tips on what’s going on in the world of Russian literature, and I hope to meet her at BEA next week!

31 May 12 | Will Evans | Comments

Next week, Book Expo America, “North America’s premier meeting of book trade professionals,” will take over the Javits Center in NYC. This year’s guest of honor at BEA is none other than RUSSIA, your humble author’s area of beloved expertise, and Russia will be the focus of a TON of super-cool events/panels/readings/parties as well as the “2012 Global Markets Forum” (aka: the business of books in and out of Russia, including my favorite Russian indie publisher, Ad Marginem Press!) all between June 2-7 as part of BEA’s READ RUSSIA 2012 initiative.

According to the fine folks at READ RUSSIA: “Russia’s 4,000-square-foot BEA exhibition space at the Javits Center will host presentations for industry professionals on the Russian book market, Russian literature in translation, and new works by Russian writers, publishers, historians, and journalists.”

Open Letter’s own Mikhail Shishkin, whose incredible English-language debut, Maidenhair, comes out October 13, will be one of the many contemporary Russian writers present at BEA. He’s part of a panel at 4:30 on Wednesday with Andrei Gelasimov, and will sit in on the presentation of the “Big Book” (Bol’shaya Kniga) Award Thursday at 10am.

Shishkin will also be doing a discussion with translator-extraordinaire Marian Schwartz and Open Letter publishing wizard Chad Post, hosted by The Bridge Series at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo on Thursday night at 7pm. So come and hang out with the Open Letter family at any of these awesome events and meet Shishkin, who is, from all accounts, a hilarious and awesome dude who speaks highly fluent English, so you don’t have to suffer through one of those awkward translator-trying-to-make-jokes-work moments. The good times will fly free.

Also, check out this bad boy under the Russian “Writers at BEA: Featured Writers” section:

WRITERS AT BEA

Featured Writers

Look familiar? Oh yeah, that’s not Mikhail Shishikin, nor is it Zakhar Prilepin, Dmitry Bykov, or any of the contemporary writers who will actually be at BEA, it’s our old friend Aleksandr Pushkin, who of course died 200 years ago, and who will only be present at BEA in the form of a tattooed portrait on my arm, but whose birthday we will allllll be celebrating on Wednesday in “true Russian fashion” (you can guess what that means)!

But READ RUSSIA is a killer endeavor, filling the streets of NYC with some of the greatest living Russian writers (especially Shishkin and the mustachio’d Bykov and the intensity-in-ten-cities Prilepin, but I really really wish Mikhail Elizarov were there!), and giving the publishing world a much-needed glimpse into the Russia beyond the classics and outside of the overtly political commentary in Western media and literature about the country.

Check out a full list of READ RUSSIA events all over NYC here or a list of all Russian-related events at BEA here.

31 May 12 | Will Evans | Comments

I’ve been reading the Three Percent blog for over a year now, and now here I am, sitting in Chad’s office, writing a blog post for Three Percent to introduce myself to the Three Percent Army – the cult of translated literature, the gang of literary ruffians who make up the core audience of Three Percent, Open Letter, and all literary endeavors worldwide. Today is my third day as an Open Letter summer intern (or, as my BEA badge would have me called, an “assistant editor”!), and I’ll be posting some items on the Three Percent blog all summer, so this is an introduction into the mouth of madness that you shall all enter at various points throughout the summer.

I graduated from Duke University a few weeks ago with a MA in Russian Culture – literature, media, politics, history, you name it, I study and love it – and became aware of Three Percent (and Open Letter, and independent, nonprofit, and translation-friendly presses) and the universe of how translated literature functions in the world around the time I started my MA program in fall 2010. I spent three months last summer in St. Petersburg and Moscow, where I took some classes and translated the Russian journalist Oleg Kashin’s first novel, Fardwor, Ruissa! A Fantastical Tale from Putin’s Russia (Roissya Vperde: Fantasticheskaya Povest’). In the process of translating, I was drawn into the world of translators and publishers who make the magic happen – getting translated books into the hands of readers like myself. That’s when I came across Three Percent, and became a regular reader, which led me to buy the Three Percent e-book, in which I took note of how Chad declared a need for more publishers of translated literature and more recognition given to the translators and the publishers.

Around the same time, my wife accepted a summer association position at a law firm in Dallas, and I began brainstorming things to do in Dallas for the rest of my life with a Russian degree, and BOOM, the idea was born that I would start a publishing company in Dallas (which is, nicely enough, home to the American Literary Translators Association!). All I needed was some experience in the business, and after a quick email to Chad asking for some professional advice and expertise, I’m in Rochester, reading Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair in preparation for all of his BEA appearances (plus his event w/ Marian Schwartz & Chad at McNally Jackson!) and copy-editing the new Quim Monzó . . . learning the ropes, and enjoying the hell out of it.

I’m new to this business, but I love it. I will be at BEA next week, and would love to meet with anybody and everybody. Hopefully I can compare literary tattoos with Tom Roberge and mustaches with Dmitry Bykov and brainstorm ideas about my future publishing company with those-in-the-know. See y’all in NYC at BEA.

10 January 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito has posted a six-question interview with Margaret Carson, translator of Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds, which has been gathering a ton of praise. (Coincidentally, I finished reading his next Open Letter book—The Planets—while at MLA and can assure his fans that this is just as good. Very different book, but if you liked My Two Worlds, you won’t be disappointed.)

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting new books I read last year was My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec. The book raises quite legitimate comparisons to authors like Sebald and Walser, and its brief 100 pages are made expansive by intricate, precise prose. The book concerns the reflections made by its unnamed narrator over the course of a short walk through a park in some unnamed Brazilian city. What is perhaps most striking about this walk is the haze of thought that Chejfec creates within it. Reading, we sense some sort of meaning at the core of this thought, but that meaning stays elusive. It is from this movement between meaning and absence that the book derives its power. [. . .]

Scott Esposito: That’s interesting that you were taking on specialized vocabulary and knowledge to help the translation of this book. In my opinion, that strengthens the Sebald connection that I and others have established to Chejfec’s work, since a mastery of various minor forms of 20th-century knowledge was so essential to his project. Relative to other things you’ve translated, did you feel that Chejfec’s language placed more demands on your English?

Margaret Carson: Yes, language and its nuances are extremely important to Sergio, and part of the challenge of translating My Two Worlds was exploring equivalent words and phrases for the English version. Many of the descriptive passages take delight in visual minutiae, as for instance the appearance and texture of the path the narrator follows into the park, or the workings of the large fountain whose spray of water gives him the first inkling of Kentridge’s dotted lines. It was tricky to keep these and other passages moving in the English; what feels effortless in the original breaks down as soon as you begin to translate it. Often sentences would flash back to life again after a few key words were in place; it’s a joy to run wild in English and find such a wealth of possibilities.

In the midst of working on this translation I became won over by words that on previous projects I would probably have rejected as too obscure. For instance, a word that appears a few times at the end of the novel, “disyuntiva,” could be translated more commonly as “crossroads” or “dilemma”; but in choosing “disyuntiva” Sergio chose a word that strongly implies a choice between two options, and so “disjunctive” was really the best equivalent in English. Similarly, the adjective “lacustre,” which occurs twice in the novel, gave me pause; should I use the almost unheard-of cognate “lacustrine”—“of or pertaining to a lake or lakes”—or should I try something more familiar, such as “lakelike”? In the end I decided to keep the stranger word, “lacustrine,” completely justifiable, I thought, since “lucustre” is fairly strange in Spanish as well.

On the whole, I tried to stick quite close to the original, not just in word choice but also in preserving the length and density of the sentences. I had to search for models in English to give me an idea of how to structure and balance the clauses and sub-clauses that, as Enrique Vila-Matas points out in his introduction to My Two Worlds, seem to test the elasticity of the sentence itself. I was happy to discover that the long literary sentence en English is not a relic from 19th-century, and that many contemporary writers—among them Lynne Tillman, William Gaddis, and David Foster Wallace—provided excellent models that helped me carry over this essential part of Chejfec’s style.

Read the entire interview by clicking here.

10 January 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Russia Beyond the Headlines has a great piece about (and interview with) Mikhail Shishkin, the only Russian novelist to have won have won the Russian Booker, Big Book, and National Bestseller awards, and whose Maidenhair is coming out from Open Letter this summer in Marian Schwartz’s translation.

Shishkin has been compared to numerous great writers, including Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce. He laughs at critics’ need to find literary similarities, but admits that Chekhov has been influential, along with Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Bunin, from whom Shishkin said he learned not to compromise as an author. “If you say to yourself ‘I will write for such-and-such a readership’ – you immediately stop being a writer and become a servant,” Shishkin said in explanation.

According to Shishkin, the literary accolades that continue to greet his novels confirm “what was important to you is also important to someone else.”

Marian Schwartz has just finished translating the award-winning “Maidenhair,” first published in Russian in 2006. The novel draws on Shishkin’s own experience of working as an interpreter for asylum seekers in the Swiss immigration office.

“Shishkin’s is a voice I not only can hear in English but also find very amenable to being transformed into English. I’m very excited that readers here, too, are going to have the chance to hear it now,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz describes the book as “extremely ambitious and daring, but ultimately tremendously rewarding.” She admits that translating it was a challenge.

“I remember all too well how confusing it was the first time I read it. Shishkin’s array of voices is dizzying in the best kind of way,” she said

Translation of this rich and allusive novel was further complicated by extensive literary references ranging from Xenephon to Agatha Christie, as well as by neologisms and wordplay, including “an entire page that is at least half palindromes.”

YES to all of this. And unless something goes haywire, he’s going to be in the States right around the time of BookExpo America for a series of readings and other events to promote the launch of Maidenhair.

And I know this is a long excerpt from the interview RBTH did with Shishkin, but I think it’s well worth it, and that these few answers will excite any and all literature fans reading this post:

Russia Beyond the Headlines:You seem to be a writer for whom linguistic concerns are crucial. Do you think this makes translating your work particularly challenging?

Mikhail Shishkin: If you’ve read my books, then you know that the problems of love, death, human dignity, brutality, humiliation are all no less important for me than the linguistic aspects of prose. Text is only the means. Simply, it has long been the case that you can’t say anything with the usual words; they lead nowhere. You have to pave your own unique road. Of course, some things vanish in translation – word games, rhymes – but there are things that are translatable and understandable in all languages​​, for example, the need for love. Words are glass. You need to look not at the glass, but through it to God’s world. Words, like glass, exist so that light can pass through them.

RBTH: You have said that a writer’s language should diverge from the norm. Can you say a bit more about what you meant by this?

M.S.: Would you be interested in reading a novel constructed wholly according to the textbook of how to speak and write correctly? Imagine a play entirely built of phrases from an Anglo-Russian phrasebook for tourists? It would drive you crazy! The art of prose writing consists of irregularities. There are no rules. No one can explain why one incorrect phrase can be simply wrong, and another – in the work of Brodsky or Alexander Goldstein – becomes a great line.

RBTH: You have been compared to Nabokov, Chekhov and Joyce, among others. Are there any writers you feel have particularly influenced you?

M.S.: It’s funny that critics have to compare an author to someone or other. It’s interesting. Who did Pushkin get compared with? Or Tolstoy? With age the past itself changes, and the literary influences. Previously I would have answered the question about who influenced me, thus: Sasha Sokolov, Max Frisch, Nabokov. But now it seems to me that Tolstoy, Chekhov, [Ivan] Bunin exerted the most important influences on me. Bunin taught me not to compromise, and to go on believing in myself. Chekhov passed on his sense of humanity – that there can’t be any wholly negative characters in your text. And from Tolstoy I learned not to be afraid of being naïve.

RBTH: Which contemporary writers do you find interesting?

M.S.: Definitely, Alexander Goldstein. Sadly, this writer died a few years ago. Literary critics will all one day call us his contemporaries. Russian authors write beautiful texts: Vladimir Sharov’s “Rehearsals,” Dmitry Ragozin’s “Battlefield,” Maya Kucherskaya’s “Modern Paterik.”

9 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, so I don’t really heart Scott Esposito—as well all know, he’s shit at riding a mechanical bull and that is a NECESSARY in my book—but he has been doing a lot of great work lately, and has prompted me to write an appreciation of his recent reviews and round-up of some year end lists that I’ve been digging.

First up though is Scott. The new Quarterly Conversation is out and contains a review of Can Xue’s Vertical Motion, (translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping) which helps elevate this already brilliant web publication. (More on the new issue next week.)

Just before Thanksgiving, Scott’s review of Pelevin’s The Hall of the Singing Caryatids (translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield) was published by The National. As I mentioned yesterday (and in the forthcoming podcast), I just read this and really loved it for its weird and unsettling nature. Here’s Scott’s summary:

A very worthy new addition to this collection is Pelevin’s recently translated novella The Hall of Singing Caryatids, which comes to us by way of New Directions’ Pearls series of short works. It is a brilliant fable of a Russia oversaturated with “semiotic signs”, a skewing of a country where rhetoric – and not actual substance – is most often the locus of communication. The unlucky recipients of this verbiage are call girls employed by a palace of gratification built to capture some of the trickle-down wealth from Russia’s affluent classes. The book gets off to a fitting start as the women are sanctimoniously informed by their employers that their task is one of national importance, the pleasuring of the rich and powerful being vital to beating the West at its own game and keeping the precious oligarchs safe from imperialist influence.

The plot follows Lena, whose job is to join 11 other women in two-day shifts standing perfectly still as living statues that wait to take their next customer into a side room. Such a performance would be taxing to say the least, but Pelevin gives the women a secret weapon: before each shift they’re injected with a chemical modelled on that which allows praying mantises to stand perfectly still while waiting for unwary prey. The chemical offers a bonus: as a side effect, it sends Lena and her counterparts into a Zen-like nirvana where they commune with a vaguely Deepak Chopra-like spiritual mantis. As Lena explores this mantis-world more deeply, Pelevin puts her on a collision course with Mikhail Botvinik, a jet-setting oligarch who wields a force known as “Crypto-Speak” – powerful word-weapons that are cleverly disguised as “everyday speech”.

This is a book that must be read to understood.

But this isn’t the only great book of 2011 that Scott’s recently reviewed—not at all. Next up was his incredibly measured and comprehensive piece at The Critical Flame on Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds (translated from the Spanish by Margaret B. Carson):

My Two Worlds is a dance, a seduction that draws us right up to the palpable center and then fades away to the margin, drawing one back toward that center before fading into another marginal space – back and forth, round and round. It is that same haze of thought one feels when hovering around an idea that remains unelucidatable. Yet the book is merely Chejfec’s thoughts over the course of a walk. It is two hours of serpentine meditation, that same maddening dart and weave between significance and insignificance, transcendence and babble.

The best description for the book – one that might also be suitable for Sebald – is to call My Two Worlds a fragmentation of gazes. As with Sebald, mundane objects play a central role in provoking the narrator’s curiosity: the action of the book gets underway when, looking at his map and preparing to make his trip to the park, the narrator becomes fixated by “the great green blotch, as I called it.” On the map he sees “a small black 9 printed at the heart of the park . . . it strengthened my resolve to visit the park.” These are just the type of everyday, slightly obscure details that might become the object of anyone’s irrational fixation, giving the book an odd realism.

We will be posting our video from the recent Chejfec & Carson RTWCS in the near future . . . But going back to Scott’s run of reviewing great books, his piece on Juan Jose Saer’s Scars (translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph) just ran in Bookforum:

What Saer presents marvelously is the experience of reality, and the characters’ attempts to write their own narratives within its excess. Scars is stuffed with unnecessarily minute details, and Saer smothers his readers—and narrators—beneath more information than can reasonably be interpreted. In doing this, he presents reality as an abundance so great that we must necessarily ignore much of it in order to find meaning.

Fortunately, Saer never loses sight of the book’s larger rhythms amid these details, making Scars a brisk, engrossing novel. Scars is best read quickly, so that what remains after reading is not any single moment but the flow of the narrative. Saer, who doesn’t hesitate to drop in a passage that instructs readers how to read his books, indicates as much when he has Ernesto consider Wilde’s advice that “one should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details.” In Scars we see the colors of blurred motion, not the individual scenes that make up the action.

I’ve said it before (and am known to repeat myself), but Scars reestablished my faith in fiction. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. READ IT.

*

Not to shift gears to dramatically, but a lot of year-end lists are coming out (it being December and all), and a few of our titles have been getting some love.

Although it’s not an official “year end” list, I’m probably most psyched that Scars was included on the December list of Movers & Shakers at GoodReads. It is one of only six books featured. TRUST ME, IT IS THAT GOOD.

Over at Emmett Stinson’s blog, he has a list of the “Best Lit in Translation from 2011.” It’s a solid list featuring In Red, Perec’s Raise book, the new translation of Lispector’s The Hour of the Star (no, I won’t shut up about how great this is), Hrabal’s Dancing Lessons, and Chejfec’s My Two Worlds. All of these books are worth reading, and I like the way Emmett describes all of these.

Finally, to bring this all back to Scott Esposito, he has an entry at the always fantastic The Millions Year in Reading feature. And one of the books he includes? Chejfec’s My Two Worlds.

There are more lists worth discussing (the cool one at Love German Books) and ones better ignored (the so-predictable-that-it’s-almost-not-predictable NY Times list of 100 Notable Books), but for now, this is a decent start . . .

7 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Maybe I’ll write something about publishing business models and pricing and whatnot later, but for now here’s the press release about our ebooks. Which I think you should rush to your nearest device and purchase immediately.

June 7, 2011—Open Letter is proud to announce the launch of a new ebook series for international literature. Beginning today, the first nine titles in the collection will be made available on e-reader devices such as Kindle, Nook, and iPad, among others.

To highlight this event, each book will be priced at $4.99 at launch—a limited offer lasting until June 30, 2011. Currently available ebooks include translated titles like the award-winning A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Polish writer Jerzy Pilch and the Russian classic The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov.

The Open Letter ebook series also boasts what is believed to be the world’s largest ebook collection of Catalan literature translated into English, with titles such as the modern classic Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda.

“We believe the best publishing model for Open Letter is the one that gets great international literature into the hands of readers. That’s why we’re so excited, not only to be offering a large selection of our books in both print and digital formats, but also to be putting these ebooks out there at a price that allows anyone to take a chance on something new,” says publisher Chad W. Post.

The current collection includes: Bragi Ólafsson’s The Ambassador and The Pets, Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities and The Mighty Angel, Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring and The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda, Quim Monzó’s Gasoline and Guadalajara, and Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf.

To see the full collection to learn more about each title, click here..

11 April 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



As mentioned in the previous post, our second RTW event of the spring is almost upon us, and it’s happening this Wednesday, April 13, at the University of Rochester. All the breathtaking details follow below.


Reading the World Conversation Series
Piotr Sommer & Bill Martin:
Polish Poetry and Translation

APRIL 13, 2011
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m
Sloan Auditorium, Goergen Hall
University of Rochester
(Presented with the Skalny Center.
Free and open to the public)

What translates and what doesn’t in contemporary poetry? What are mutual inspirations of Polish and Anglo-American poetry today? This event will feature a poetry reading by Piotr Sommer, followed by a conversation between Piotr Sommer and Bill Martin.

Piotr Sommer, preeminent Polish poet and Visiting Professor at the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, has published several dozen books, including poetry, literary criticism, and anthologies. He is also a well-known translator of contemporary English-language poets and is the editor of Literatura na Świecie (World Literature), a Warsaw-based magazine of international writing.

Bill Martin, former Literary Program Manager at the Polish Cultural Institute, was responsible for the “Polish Literature” issue of the Chicago Review, which marked the first English publication for dozens of Polish writers. His translations from Polish and German include Natasza Goerke’s Farewells to Plasma and Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives.

Visit this event on Facebook.

(This event is presented by the Skalny Center for Polish & Central European Studies at the University of Rochester and hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)

7 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

The latest addition to our “Reviews Section”: is a piece by Emily Davis on Juan Jose Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which is translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph and was published by Open Letter earlier this year.

As noted in the past, we don’t run a lot of reviews of our own books on this site, but Emily wrote this for her translation class, and since Saer is one of my personal favorites, I think we can make an exception . . .

Emily Davis is one of the MA students in Literary Translation (aka, the MALTS program) here at the University of Rochester. She was an intern with Open Letter last semester, and did a marvelous sample translation of Damián Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography. You may also know her from the 22 Days of Awesome series that ran all last month.

We’re going to be publishing at least three Juan Jose Saer titles, including Cicatrices (Scars), and La Grande (La Grande?). All three of these are translated by Steve Dolph. Sixty-Five Years was also reviewed in the New York Times a couple weeks back . . .

Here’s the opening of Emily’s review:

It is a sunny spring day in the city you have recently moved to, and on your way to work in the morning, you decide on a whim to get off the bus and walk instead. You are on a major boulevard, but at the point where you begin walking, removed from the city center, it is fairly empty. Your thoughts begin to wander, as they tend to do on a walk alone in the city, and soon you run into an acquaintance, the Mathematician. He has just returned from a trip to Europe, and the two of you fall into step and into conversation about the recent birthday party for Jorge Washington Noriega, which neither of you was able to attend, but which the Mathematician heard all about from Botón—“Button,” a nickname whose origin you do not know, and a person you have never met, but whose word you are more or less forced to trust as the Mathematician begins to narrate the story of the celebration of the sixty-five years of Washington.

Such is the premise of Juan José Saer’s novel, only that “you” are in fact Ángel Leto, a young man who has just moved to the small city named Sante Fe and is working a number of bookkeeping jobs. The effect is the same, however, as Leto essentially becomes a reader of the Mathematician’s story (according to Botón): as he listens, he goes forming a picture in his mind of the scene and the people involved, much as you might do when reading a book—some objects incomplete or indefinite, facial features hazy or purely imagined, where those details are left out of the narrative:

“Leto, who is listening now to the Mathematician, has had to add an unforeseen pavilion and a grill he can barely picture, since most of the story takes place under the thatched roof of a generic pavilion, more or less the idea of a pavilion, without an overly defined shape, staked in a patio he can’t picture with absolute clarity, where familiar and unfamiliar people possessing, as the Mathematician mentions them, distinct gradations of reality, drink a kind of beer that Leto has never seen, smelled, touched, or tasted [. . .]”

Click here to read the full piece.

7 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It is a sunny spring day in the city you have recently moved to, and on your way to work in the morning, you decide on a whim to get off the bus and walk instead. You are on a major boulevard, but at the point where you begin walking, removed from the city center, it is fairly empty. Your thoughts begin to wander, as they tend to do on a walk alone in the city, and soon you run into an acquaintance, the Mathematician. He has just returned from a trip to Europe, and the two of you fall into step and into conversation about the recent birthday party for Jorge Washington Noriega, which neither of you was able to attend, but which the Mathematician heard all about from Botón—“Button,” a nickname whose origin you do not know, and a person you have never met, but whose word you are more or less forced to trust as the Mathematician begins to narrate the story of the celebration of the sixty-five years of Washington.

Such is the premise of Juan José Saer’s novel, only that “you” are in fact Ángel Leto, a young man who has just moved to the small city named Sante Fe and is working a number of bookkeeping jobs. The effect is the same, however, as Leto essentially becomes a reader of the Mathematician’s story (according to Botón): as he listens, he goes forming a picture in his mind of the scene and the people involved, much as you might do when reading a book—some objects incomplete or indefinite, facial features hazy or purely imagined, where those details are left out of the narrative:

Leto, who is listening now to the Mathematician, has had to add an unforeseen pavilion and a grill he can barely picture, since most of the story takes place under the thatched roof of a generic pavilion, more or less the idea of a pavilion, without an overly defined shape, staked in a patio he can’t picture with absolute clarity, where familiar and unfamiliar people possessing, as the Mathematician mentions them, distinct gradations of reality, drink a kind of beer that Leto has never seen, smelled, touched, or tasted [. . .]

This is a book about storytelling and reading, and we quickly begin to get a sense of the multiple layers making up Saer’s masterfully crafted narrative. Its structure is Cervantine in its multiple nested narrative frames, where a typical scene in the book may be a joke told by Washington, relayed by Botón to the Mathematician, who then tells it simultaneously to Leto and to us readers, all of which is ultimately framed by the narrator of the text we hold in our hands. To make things just a touch more complex, we can add one more frame to that structure by taking into account the fact that this is a translation.

As translator, Steve Dolph makes a wise move in choosing to preserve the long sentence structure (it is not infrequent to read more than a dozen or even a couple dozen lines of text before reaching a period) and complex syntax of Saer’s text. The style is an essential complement to the layered narrative structure of the book, and it is extremely well executed, in that it draws attention to itself as being extraordinary without being off-putting or feeling too “foreign.” Mechanically flawless, the sentences are not messy or nonsensical, and where they might demand extra attention from the reader to follow the narrative thread, the narrator himself restores balance with his habit of casually checking himself, as in “he—the Mathematician, no?—” or “—Botón I was saying, no?,” or repeating pieces of information, to clarifying and often comedic effect:

Leto follows the Mathematician’s story [. . .] with some difficulty [. . .] transparent passages that allow his imagination, turning on and off intermittently, to construct expressive and fleeting images: there was a feast at the house of someone named Basso, in Colastiné, at the end of August, to celebrate Washington’s birthday, and they had started discussing a horse that had stumbled; the Mathematician—it was Tomatis who gave him the nickname—heard about it from Botón the Saturday before on the Paraná ferry, Botón, a guy he has heard about several times but whom he has not had the pleasure of meeting, and then Washington had said that the horse was not an acceptable example for the problem they were discussing—Leto asks himself darkly, without daring to make the case to the Mathematician out of fear that the Mathematician will look down on him a little, what the hell the so-called problem could be—that the mosquito, if Leto understood correctly, would be a more appropriate creature [. . .]

Besides having multiple narrative frames and sentences with extraordinary numbers of commas, the text is impressive in its several concurrent narratives. There is of course the narrative of Washington’s birthday party, as well as perhaps the most obvious narrative of the characters walking down the street. Besides those two lines, there are shorter strands consisting of, for instance, the Mathematician’s commentary on his trip to Europe, or his telling of his running into Botón on the ferry to Paraná to watch a rugby game. In addition, as readers we are given access to the unvoiced thoughts and memories of Leto and the Mathematician. In Leto’s case, his thoughts are preoccupied by reflections on the recent loss of his father and childhood memories relevant to his relationship with his father and mother. The Mathematician, on the other hand, is haunted by the memory of what he calls “The Incident,” wherein he temporarily went mad in response to being stood up by a Buenos Aires poet who had promised to discuss with him the Mathematician’s laboriously crafted thoughts entitled The Fourteen Points Toward All Future Meter. The Mathematician does not reveal any portion of this story to Leto; it is only as readers of Saer’s text that we are privileged to play witness to this episode that is so telling of the Mathematician’s character. Later, we will see the Mathematician on a plane to Sweden, fleeing the military dictatorship in Argentina and recalling his meeting in Paris with Pichón Garay who, years after the event, attempts to recall once more the details of Washington’s sixty-fifth birthday party. This episode naturally does not figure into the Mathematician’s conversation with Leto on their walk down San Martín Boulevard, since it will be years before the dictatorship comes to power. Again, as readers of the multiply framed text, we are privileged to enjoy additional depth of context, in this case, the revelation of a darker sociopolitical setting for a mostly lighthearted comedy.

All this narrative richness is made possible through an omniscient narrator who is, atypically, also a first-person narrator. While the narrator is not himself a character who plays a role in the novel, he does take on some personality by virtue of narrating in the first person. This unusual combination creates a sense of listening to a narrated film or an audiobook: the narrator can report and comment on the observable story as well as on the characters’ unspoken thoughts, in the way no typical player could, and yet we are continually reminded that there is a human voice behind the narration. The reader, just as Leto—who joins the Mathematician on the street for a stroll and a story—walks alongside the narrator while he unravels his tale.

In his debut translated book, Dolph brings us a delightful read, with language that tickles the brain and a style that highlights Saer’s inventiveness and expertly conveys his sense of humor—muted, pseudo-academic, at times a little bit sad, much like Washington’s own “subtle irony, which should probably leave you thoughtful and could, at the most, make you smile, inwardly more than anything“—the kind that elicits more a half snicker than an LOL, less likely to attract strange looks from, say, fellow commuters as you read The Sixty-Five Years of Washington on your way downtown.

5 January 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Since last year’s MLA party was shut down by the man hotel security, this year we’ve decided to go all weak and have our reception at the Open Letter/Counterpath book (#237) from 5-7 on Saturday, January 8th.

So, if you happen to be in L.A. this weekend for the MLA, please feel free to stop by. There will be a bunch of wine and a couple “Italian Antipasto Platters.” And while you’re there, you can check out ALL the Open Letter books published so far, along with all the Counterpath titles.



5 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at Imprint there’s an interview with me, Nathan Furl, and E.J. Van Lanen on Open Letter, in particular our book design. J. C. Gabel of the excellent Stop Smiling magazine and books put this all together.

Here’s a bit from Nate and E.J. about our covers:

What immediately struck me about Open Letter Books was its strong yet minimal visual presence. Was there a conscious decision, early on, to make these books objects as well as books? And what were the major influences when it came time to flesh out how the catalog should look and feel?

Nathan Furl: Independent of any design, production, and marketing choices, printed books will always be objects, whether you care or not, so it’s really a question of how much attention you pay to those objects you’re making. For us, we knew early on that we’d like to give the books, as well as the larger personality of Open Letter, some sort of cohesive look—a family of materials and an identity that somehow all make sense together and, hopefully, that do a service to the books, the content, and the press as an entity. It’s not an uncommon idea, but I think it’s a great one for smaller publishers, especially, because it takes advantage of their nimbleness in order to achieve something that feels larger than any of the individual parts. As it turned out, successfully creating and agreeing upon that look for our first season was a real challenge. Eventually, we turned to a fantastic designer named Milan Bozic, who was a friend of E.J.’s. Milan built the foundation of our look by designing the covers for our first two seasons. With that difficult piece in place, we’ve been been working hard at it ever since. (I’ve designed a handful of covers, as well as all the interiors, catalogues, posters, etc., which we aim to fit within our larger personality, too. And, over the past season, E.J. has been designing nearly all of our the newest covers.) I should mention, too, that creating a whole visual identity for us isn’t a goal in itself. The point of all this, first and foremost, is to use any tools at our disposal to get English-language readers excited about international literature and to get our books into as many people’s hands as we can.

E.J. Van Lanen: There was definitely a conscious decision to think about the books as objects. There’s something that Dave Eggers said once that I really felt applied to us, and I’m paraphrasing, and misremembering, but when he was asked about the design of the McSweeney’s books, he said that they wanted their books to not only win readers in the bookstores, but to win on people’s bookshelves too–to be irresistible once they’re home. It’s one thing to get there, and it’s something else again to get picked up and read.

So we had this sort of idea from the outset. Our first decision on that front was to do our books paper-over-board, which is pretty common in a lot of book markets around the world, but isn’t so prevalent here, with the idea that this would be a way to stand out from the crowd. And we did; but it didn’t last, unfortunately, because although we were selling the books at paperback prices, people tended to think that the books would be expensive. It’s a hardcover format, and the natural tendency, after years of training by big publishers, is to expect hardcovers to cost thirty dollars. Maybe one day we’ll go back to that format, but I think the designs we have work really well on paperback as well.

For the look, we were really fortunate to work with a great designer, Milan Bozic, who works for HarperCollins, to develop the designs for our first 12 books. We wanted to have a look that would feel coherent from one book to the next, so that eventually our books would have some sort of Open Letter-ish feel to them, but we didn’t want to do something so rigid that we’d get bored with it or be trapped in a format that wasn’t really working or that we didn’t like. We also knew we didn’t want to use any photographs, nor could we afford to pay an illustrator. So, we sent Milan these parameters, which on reflection sound pretty limiting, along with descriptions of the books and a few ideas for images and asked him to see what he could do. Of the first six designs he proposed, I think three or four—The Pets, The Taker, Nobody’s Home—had this bold, sparse, graphical feel to them. And although they’re very different designs, they felt as though they somehow belonged together, I suppose because they all came from Milan and this was a mood he was in at the time. We asked him to continue on in this direction, and after the first 12 books were published, the mold had been set. Milan is far, far too busy for us now, and, frankly we couldn’t afford to pay him what he really deserves, but because the original notion was so strong, and so flexible, we’ve been able to approximate that look, with varying success to be sure, in his absence.

Click here to read the full piece and to see some Really Big jpgs of our covers.

7 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We mentioned these contests a while back and at long last, here’s the official press release about the winning novel and translator. To make this all a bit more exciting, tomorrow I’m going to post short capsules on recent Bulgarian works published in English translation; Thursday I’ll post a long section of Milen’s novel; and on Friday I’ll post a piece of Zdravka’s translations. This is all so Three Percent: an ongoing series on Spanish-language novelists, and a mini-focus on Bulgaria. I have the best job in the world.

Milen Ruskov and Zdravka Evtimova Win Inaugural Contests for Contemporary Bulgarian Literature

December 2010—Open Letter Books and the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation are proud to announce the inaugural winners of two contests supporting Bulgarian literature: Milen Ruskov won the first Contest for Contemporary Bulgarian Writers for his novel Thrown into Nature, and Zdravka Evtimova won the Contest for Translators.

“What the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is doing for Bulgarian literature is remarkable,” said Open Letter publisher Chad W. Post. “The support they’re giving to Bulgarian writers—through the Sozopol Fiction Seminars and these contests—goes a long way to helping bring contemporary Bulgarian literature to the attention of readers throughout the world.”

Milen Rouskov’s Thrown into Nature will be published by Open Letter in the fall of 2011. The novel is an ironic, humorous book set in sixteenth-century Spain and tells the story of Dr. Nicolas Monardes, whose treatise “Of the Tabaco and His Great Vertues” was partially responsible for introducing tobacco to Europe. Da Silva—Dr. Monardes’s assistant—narrates the novel and the absurd adventures of Dr. monardes, who attempts to cure all ills through the “power of tobacco,” until it becomes painfully clear that tobacco isn’t the perfect panacea.

As a result of winning the Contest for Transaltors, Zdravka Evtimova will spend three weeks in Rochester, NY, working with Open Letter on her translation of Master Mille’s Living Light and Other Stories by Boyan Biolchev and learning about the U.S. publishing industry. An author in her own right, Evtimova has also translated several English novels into Bulgarian (including Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved) and Bulgarian stories into English.

Elizabeth Kostova (author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves) helped found the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation in 2007 with the goal of promoting Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors. To this end, and among other initiatives, the Foundation supports the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website, and, with support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, these two inaugural contests.

Open Letter Books was also founded in 2007 at the University of Rochester with the goal of publishing and promoting literature in translation. In addition to publishing 10 works in translation every year, the press helps run the Three Percent website, the Reading the World Conversation Series at the University of Rochester, and the Best Translated Book Awards.

“I’m delighted and grateful that Open Letter Books is partnering with Elizabeth Kostova Foundation to support the very fine—and very interesting—literature currently coming out of Bulgaria,” said Elizabeth Kostova. “These awards will do much to nurture the work of Bulgarian writers in the global literary scene.”

“In the context of how few English translations of contemporary Bulgarian literature are published on an annual basis, I consider these two complementary awards both indispensable and essential to the mission of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation,” EFK director Milena Deleva stated. “These awards create new and much needed opportunities for both Bulgarian writers and literary translators. They also expand the Foundation’s collaborative framework through two ideal partnerships with Open Letter and the America for Bulgaria Foundation.”

1 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Heath Mayhew on Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), which came out from Open Letter earlier this year in Margaret Schwartz’s translation.

As you may or may not know, we generally don’t run reviews of our own books, which may or may be a sound policy, but regardless, we’re making an exception for this piece because of how it came to us. Heath Mayhew is one of our subscribers, and with Macedonio’s Museum, he received a letter from me explaining how we came to publish this, how much the book means to me, why I love it so much, etc. It also included a request for readers to let me know what they thought of this, since it’s such a strange, unique book.

Last month, Heath sent me this review, which he wrote as part of a Translation Seminar he’s taking with Stefania Heim at Columbia University. It’s a great introduction to the book, which is why we decided to violate our “rule” and post it here:

Prologue to the Review

Macedonio Fernandez is little known outside Argentina. Unfortunately I foresee this remaining the case for some time. Even with the recent translation and publication of his posthumous novel, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel (Museo de la Novela de la Eterna), by Open Letter Books (translated by Margaret Schwartz), the “skip-around readers” Fernandez is looking for (to convert into “orderly readers”) are few. One of the reasons is because Fernandez is taking a risk. He knows exactly what his novel is and what it isn’t: he knows that it is the “First Good Novel,” which follows the writing of another novel, Adriana Buenos Aires: The Last Bad Novel (Adriana Buenos Aires: ultima novella mala). So what makes Fernandez’s novel so good? This is where (and why) he remains obscure: the tenacity with which he hopes to redefine the novel. It is a task that can get sloppy very quickly. And so, Fernandez makes sure that the reader is well equipped before “beginning” his novel (he argues, “. . . the reader comes late if he comes after the cover.”). Thus, he prolongs the start of his novel with fifty-seven prologues: in part to provoke the novel to be “thrown violently to the floor most often, and avidly taken up again just as often” by his readers. He boasts, “What other author can boast of that?”

Introduction to Macedonio Fernandez

You can tell by my first prologue, Macedonio Fernandez was not the typical novelist. From the Preface by Adam Thirlwell and Translator’s Introduction by Margaret Schwartz, and from my selected readings, there is a cacophony of mythology surrounding Fernandez. Most often mentioned, yet somewhat unknown, is Fernandez’s mentorship of Jorge Luis Borges. Oft-quoted Borges explains: “I imitated him, to the point of transcription, to the point of devoted and impassioned plagiarism.”

Click here to read the full review.

1 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Prologue to the Review

Macedonio Fernandez is little known outside Argentina. Unfortunately I foresee this remaining the case for some time. Even with the recent translation and publication of his posthumous novel, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel (Museo de la Novela de la Eterna), by Open Letter Books (translated by Margaret Schwartz), the “skip-around readers” Fernandez is looking for (to convert into “orderly readers”) are few. One of the reasons is because Fernandez is taking a risk. He knows exactly what his novel is and what it isn’t: he knows that it is the “First Good Novel,” which follows the writing of another novel, Adriana Buenos Aires: The Last Bad Novel (Adriana Buenos Aires: ultima novella mala). So what makes Fernandez’s novel so good? This is where (and why) he remains obscure: the tenacity with which he hopes to redefine the novel. It is a task that can get sloppy very quickly. And so, Fernandez makes sure that the reader is well equipped before “beginning” his novel (he argues, “. . . the reader comes late if he comes after the cover.”). Thus, he prolongs the start of his novel with fifty-seven prologues: in part to provoke the novel to be “thrown violently to the floor most often, and avidly taken up again just as often” by his readers. He boasts, “What other author can boast of that?”

Introduction to Macedonio Fernandez

You can tell by my first prologue, Macedonio Fernandez was not the typical novelist. From the Preface by Adam Thirlwell and Translator’s Introduction by Margaret Schwartz, and from my selected readings, there is a cacophony of mythology surrounding Fernandez. Most often mentioned, yet somewhat unknown, is Fernandez’s mentorship of Jorge Luis Borges. Oft-quoted Borges explains: “I imitated him, to the point of transcription, to the point of devoted and impassioned plagiarism.” But he continues:

I felt: Macedonio is metaphysics, is literature. Whoever preceded him might shine in history, but they were all rough drafts of Macedonio, imperfect previous versions. To not imitate this canon would have represented incredible negligence.

Other myths include eccentric qualities: running for president by leaving scraps of paper with his name inscribed on cafe tables; starting a utopian society, in Uruguay (with Borges’ father, Jorge Guillermo Borges), but stopping after a day because of mosquitoes; leaving pages of manuscripts behind after moving from one shanty to another. Numerous other myths survive, partly due to Borges, partly to others.

What seems to be true of his adult life is that Fernandez befriended Borges’ father as a university student and they remained close friends throughout their lives. He was a lawyer until his wife passed away in 1920. He left his children in the care of grandparents and, as Marcelo Ballvé describes, “spent the final three decades of his life drifting through Buenos Aires boardinghouses and country hermitages, absorbed in writing and thinking.” It was in these years, reunited with Borges senior, befriending younger Borges and the “_generación martinfierrista_,” that he dedicated himself to philosophy, literature, and meditation.

What the Novel is About

So what is the novel about? Alison McCulloch, in her Fiction Chronicle, tries to answer this, “So what is the novel about? A group of “characters” gather at a house called La Novela, which belongs to “the President.” But what is the novel about? Clearly, that’s for “the Reader” to decide.” Although the review is only nine sentences long (four of which appear in the quote), I couldn’t accept her final decree: aren’t all novels open for “Reader” interpretation?

The novel is about love. Or what Fernandez calls Todoamor; that is, as Schwartz translates “Totalove.” I refer to Ballve, once again, for assistance,

Museo de la Novela de la Eterna, first published in 1967 and impossible to summarize, is best described as an extended experiment in writing an open novel analogous to a piece of music. The prose evokes a dizzying world of aesthetic associations and possibilities in the reader’s mind. At every moment it tests the limits between art and life, reality and fiction, as well as form and content.

“Impossible to summarize.” That sounds like a challenge! The prologues address metaphysics, literary theory, time and space, non-identity, death, life, Love (Totalove), Authorial Persona, critics, characters that appear in the novel, characters that do not appear in the novel, the Reader, prologues, “postprologuery note” and “prenovelistic observations,” and then some.

The novel is the execution of the prologues. It is as if Fernandez has set up the novel’s history, the ur-thoughts, in the prologues. And without them, the novel would seem more absurd. Are the prologues a part of the novel? Fernandez is ahead of the Reader (as he often is): on a page between the end of the prologues, and the beginning of the novel, he writes, “Éstos ¿fueron prólogos? y ésta ¿será novela? Esta página es para que en ella se ande el lector antes de leer en su muy digna indecisión y gravedad.” Margaret Schwartz translates this post-prologue/pre-novel page as, “Were those prologues? And is this the novel? _This page is for the reader to linger, in his well-deserved and serious indecision, before reading on._”

Where the Reader realizes that Macedonio Fernandez wrote the novel in Spanish and that Margaret Schwartz translated it into English (which also finally answers what this review really meant to do from the beginning: tell what the novel is about)

Margaret Schwartz has imprinted a dual signature into this translation. One is Macedonio Fernandez’s. The other is her own. It is apparent in Schwartz’s translation, that the Spanish is playful and inventive; words (and worlds) collide and connect at the hip: Totalove, goodbad, firstlast, limit-end, autoexistence, auto-prologuery, etc. We do not even need to look at the Spanish to know just how well Schwartz has performed: towards originality in the English and creation of transparence for the Spanish. We cannot forget the debt we owe to Margaret Schwartz for working through the novel’s dense content and Fernandez’s eccentric style; this work shimmers in fluidity and strangeness.

“The playfulness of the novel is identical to its sadness,” writes Adam Thirlwell in his Preface. Schwartz does not confuse the two. Eventually she projects into English a novel about an estancia called ‘La Novela’ (an instance where the works shimmers in fluidity and strangeness), owned by The President. There, he asks certain characters to stay in hope that they can prepare for the novel, and perhaps find happiness. But they must first rid themselves of their past, in order to make themselves more real, which means they become dreams, because dreams have no past . . .

And now, to begin . . .

This novel is about beginning and ending, or the rejection of beginning and ending. To never start is to never end. Totalove, never having a witness to its start, never ends. But our everyday reader will say, “Certainly love has a beginning!” Macedonio Fernandez, bravely and brilliantly, rallies against this notion. He blows his trumpet on the beginning and ending to love, the novel, and life. There is no death. This novel is an expression of non-death. He is sure of it. And Margaret Schwartz turns the frequency dial and furthers this claim. If you are a reader, one well equipped, this eccentric, yet heartfelt novel is worth throwing to the ground. Because, you will pick it up again just as avidly.

22 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

I never had a chance to write all that I wanted to write about the Sozopol Fiction Workshop (and some of what I wanted to write—skinny dipping in the Black Sea, “Kentucky Fried Happy Hour,” etc.—was maybe a bit too “you had to be there” to really make sense anyway, so, well, you’ve all been spared), but it was one of the most amazing literary trips I’ve been on in a while. (Along with Torino, naturally.) Sozopol is gorgeous beyond words, the seminar itself was fascinating, and the participants fantastic, but what has stayed with me the most is just how dedicated Elizabeth Kostova and Milena Deleva are to promoting Bulgarian literature. Not only have they helped create a fantastic seminar for both Bulgarian and English writers, but now they’ve launched two contests—in collaboration with Open Letter—to promote the spread of Bulgarian literature throughout the world:

First off is the Contest for Contemporary Bulgarian Writers, which will result in Open Letter (and possibly a UK press) publishing a contemporary Bulgarian novel in translation. I’m going to be one of the judges for this, and to participate, all a Bulgarian writer has to do is submit the following to Milena Deleva (mdeleva [at] ekf [dot] bg):

  • Minimum 30, maximum 50 pages from your novel (Times New Roman, 12 pt, double space);

  • Biography (maximum 300 words);

  • Synopsis (maximum 1500 words);

All materials should be in English language.

Closing date: 20 September 2010

Each Bulgarian writer is allowed to submit one novel for this competition.

*

The second contest is to support Bulgarian translators. Basically, the winner of this contest will be able to spend three weeks here in Rochester working with us on their translation project, help us identify more Bulgarian books to publish, and learn about the U.S. publishing scene. Because of the funding for this grant, you must be a Bulgarian citizen who has published at least three translations either from English into Bulgarian or vice versa. Here’s the info on how to apply:

The applying translators should submit:

  • Professional biography listing their major literary translations from/into English;

  • Synopsis of originally written in Bulgarian language fiction work, which they are planning to translate or refine during their residency at Open Letter Books;

  • Agreement from the author or the publisher of the book for translation. The book should be written by a living Bulgarian writer;

  • Translation sample of fiction work: 20 pages for novel or 10 pages minimum if applying with short story (please send one or more complete stories in order to reach the required minimum) The samples could be from the intended text for translation during the work stay at Open Letter Books.

  • Statement of Purpose explaining the interest in the fellowship, the relevance of the residency to the translator’s career, areas of literary interests etc.

Deadline for Applications: 27 September 2010

Again, all info must be sent to Milena Deleva at mdeleva [at] ekf [dot] bg.

Both are excellent opportunities, and I feel very fortunate that Milena and Elizabeth chose us to work with. And I look forward to reading all your submissions and applications . . .

13 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

Following up on last week’s post about the various summer/fall 2010 previews that came out from The Millions and elsewhere, I thought that over the next few days, we’d highlight some forthcoming titles that sound pretty interesting to me. Sure I’m missing things and whatnot, so feel free to overload the comments section with recommendations.

July 2010

The Return by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (Chile, New Directions)

Let’s start in the Southern Cone with the latest book from international superstar Roberto Bolano. Fans of his can’t get enough, and this collection of stories—his second to appear in English—should be fantastic. The earlier story collection, Last Evenings on Earth, is one of my favorite of all his ND books. And this collections sounds just as stunningly strange and wonderful: “Consider the title piece: a young party animal collapses in a Parisian disco and dies on the dance floor; just as his soul is departing his body, it realizes strange doings are afoot — and what follows defies the imagination (except Bolaño’s own).”

The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Chile, Open Letter)

Personal favorite from our list. I love Zambra’s style, his directness. This book is about a man who tells his step-daughter a nightly bedtime story about “The Private Lives of Trees.” On this particular night his wife is late . . . and then later . . . and later. And the book ends when either she arrives or he decides she never will. If you want a chance at winning a free copy of this, visit our Facebook page and “like” or comment on the Private Lives of Trees post.

Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore edited by Alvin Pang, translated from Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English by a variety of translators (Singapore, Autumn Hill)

Not surprisingly, not many works of literature from Singapore make their way into this country, which is one reason why this book is so intriguing. This anthology is a collaboration between Autumn Hill Books and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and features work from thirty-nine contemporary writers. To illustrate the range of pieces in this book, here’s a brief description of a few pieces (from Autumn Hill’s website): “Tan Chee Lay’s meditative ‘Post-Terrorist Phenomena,’ a candid re-examination of the War on Terror, carries the subtle assurance of centuries of literary tradition in ‘san wen,’ a popular Chinese form of creative non-fiction; Malay-Muslim Johar Buang’s verse is recognizably modern, yet draws from the same mystical tradition as Rumi and other Sufi masters; Yeng Puay Ngon’s Ginsbergesque long urban poem, Wena Poon’s magic realist short story and Xi Ni’er’s barbed fictive quips would all find favor in global literary circles today, while remaining grounded in a sense of place.”

Winter Journey by Jaume Cabre, translated from the Catalan by Patricia Lunn (Spain, Swan Isle Press)

A few years back, when I visited Barcelona on an editorial trip—and fell in love with the works of Merce Rodoreda and Quim Monzo, along with Spanish wine, tapas, and the entire Catalan culture—Jaume Cabre’s massive book Les veus del Pamano had recently come out. It sounded pretty interesting, but for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t get it on our list. So I’m really glad that someone else is making some of his work available. Winter Journey is supposedly a collection of short stories, but according to Swan Isle it is “a singularly brilliant and enigmatic narrative, novelistic in its approach, with mysterious connections linking characters, objects, and ideas across time and place. The text takes the form of a Schubertian musical progression in prose, a philosophical mystery moving freely through a labyrinth of centuries and cities, historical and contemporary.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at August . . .

Three Fates Linda Le Mark Polizzotti New Directions

28 June 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

As some people have noticed, our new Winter 2010 catalog is now available and listed on the Open Letter website..

Totally biased, but I think this is one of our strongest seasons yet, what with Zone, the new Bragi Olafsson novel, the first of a million or so Juan Jose Saer books (one of my absolute favorites! If you can’t wait for our book, check out The Event from Serpent’s Tail—absolutely incredible), and our first poetry title . . . You can download a pdf of the catalog by clicking the link above, but here are links to each of the books, along with their respective copy:



The Sixty-Five Years of Washington by Juan Jose Saer. Translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina)

It’s October 1960, say, or 1961, in a seaside Argentinian city named Santa Fe, and The Mathematician—wealthy, elegant, educated, dressed from head to toe in white—is just back from a grand tour of Europe. He’s on his way to drop off a press release about the trip to the papers when he runs into Ángel Leto, a relative newcomer to Rosario who does some accounting, but who this morning has decided to wander the town rather than go to work.

One day soon, The Mathematician will disappear into exile after his wife’s assassination, and Leto will vanish into the guerrilla underground, clutching his suicide pill like a talisman. But for now, they settle into a long conversation about the events of Washington Noriega’s sixty-fifth birthday—a party neither of them attended.

Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington is simultaneously a brilliant comedy about memory, narrative, time, and death and a moving narrative about the lost generations of an Argentina that was perpetually on the verge of collapse.




Zone by Mathias Enard. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. (France)

Francis Servain Mirkovic, a French-born Croat who has been working for the French Intelligence Services for fifteen years, is traveling by train from Milan to Rome. He’s carrying a briefcase whose contents he’s selling to a representative from the Vatican; the briefcase contains a wealth of information about the violent history of the Zone—the lands of the Mediterranean basin, Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy, that have become Mirkovic’s specialty.

Over the course of a single night, Mirkovic visits the sites of these tragedies in his memory and recalls the damage that his own participation in that violence—as a soldier fighting for Croatia during the Balkan Wars—has wreaked in his own life. Mirkovic hopes that this night will be his last in the Zone, that this journey will expiate his sins, and that he can disappear with Sashka, the only woman he hasn’t abandoned, forever . . .

One of the truly original books of the decade—and written as a single, hypnotic, propulsive, physically irresistible sentence—Mathias Énard’s Zone provides an extraordinary and panoramic view of the turmoil that has long deviled the shores of the Mediterranean.




The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda. Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Catalonia)

Collected here are thirty-one of Mercè Rodoreda’s most moving and challenging stories, presented in chronological order of their publication from three of Rodoreda’s most beloved short story collections: Twenty-Two Stories, It Seemed Like Silk and Other Stories, and My Christina and Other Stories. These stories capture Rodoreda’s full range of expression, from quiet literary realism to fragmentary impressionism to dark symbolism. Few writers have captured so clearly, or explored so deeply, the lives of women who are stuck somewhere between senseless modernity and suffocating tradition—Rodoreda’s “women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty” (Natasha Wimmer).




The Ambassador by Bragi Olafsson. Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith. (Iceland)

Sturla Jón Jónsson, the fifty-something building superintendent and sometimes poet, has been invited to a poetry festival in Vilnius, Lithuania, appointed, as he sees it, as the official representative of the people of Iceland to the field of poetry. His latest poetry collection, published on the eve of his trip to Vilnius, is about to cause some controversy in his home country—Sturla is publicly accused of having stolen the poems from his long-dead cousin, Jónas.

Then there’s Sturla’s new overcoat, the first expensive item of clothing he has ever purchased, which causes him no end of trouble. And the article he wrote for a literary journal, which points out the stupidity of literary festivals and declares the end of his career as a poet. Sturla has a lot to deal with, and that’s not counting his estranged wife and their five children, nor the increasingly bizarre experiences and characters he’s forced to confront at the festival in Vilnius . . .

Bragi Ólafsson’s The Ambassador is a quirky novel that’s filled with insightful and wry observations about aging, family, love, and the mysteries of the hazelnut.




Lodgings by Andrzej Sosnowski. Translated from the Polish by Benjamin Paloff. (Poland)

Lodgings is the first representative selection of Sosnowski’s work available in English. Spanning his entire career, from the publication of Life in Korea in 1992 to his newest poems, this is a book whose approach to language, literature, and the representation of experience is simultaneously resonant and strange—a cocktail party where lowlifes and sophisticates hobnob with French theorists and British glam rockers, unsettling us with the hard accuracy of their pronouncements.

One of the foremost Polish poets of his generation, Andrzej Sosnowski’s work demonstrates a dazzling range of influences and echoes, from Ronald Firbank and Raymond Roussel to John Ashbery and Elizabeth Bishop. Also an influential editor and critic, he has received most of the literary honors available to poets in Poland, including the prestigious Silesius Prize.

29 April 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past Monday we celebrated the third year of Open Letter with a very special event at which ten different University of Rochester faculty members, deans, and students read short bits from ten different Open Letter books. One of the most entertaining, rapid, enjoyable events we’ve ever hosted. And in contrast to some of the others—all of which have been really amazing—I think this might be the most watchable one online. The breaks between readers are natural places to pause if you need to do something, the topic keeps shifting every 5 minutes or so, everyone who read did an amazing job, people actually laughed at some of the jokes . . .

Anyway, for anyone who couldn’t be there, here’s a link to the video:

26 April 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments

If you’re near the University of Rochester at 6:00 p.m., today is our Open Letter Celebration—our final Reading the World event of the spring.

We’ll have ten participants doing ten micro-readings from ten different Open Letter books (also, there will be food and an after-party/get-together at Tapas 177 to which all are invited). You can checkout the full details on Facebook or at the Open Letter website.



13 April 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Last night we hosted our second Reading the World event of the spring, featuring a really engaging reading and conversation between leading Latin American author Horacio Castellanos Moya and Chad Post. As always, video will be posted soon.

But, now, we have an cool change in programing for our final Reading the World event of the spring: On April 26, we’re having a celebration of sorts, in a big event featuring 10 readers, 10 great works of literature in translation, and some free food. Here are the details:



APRIL 26, 2010 – 6:00 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room
Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
Reception to Follow
(free and open to the public)

To celebrate the third anniversary of Open Letter Books, ten participants—UR faculty members, Open Letter interns, and fans—will read 3–5 minute segments from ten different Open Letter titles. You’ll hear a wide range of voices from all over the world, and find out firsthand what types of works Open Letter is making available to English readers. All 18 books published by the press will be available for sale, and a reception will follow this lively event.

Featuring: Dean Susan Gibbons, Jennifer Grotz (Dept. of Eng.), Meredith Keller (Open Letter intern), John Michael (Chair of Eng. Dept.), Dean Joanna Olmsted, Claudia Schaefer (Chair of Modern Languages & Cultures), Joanna Scott (Dept. of Eng.), Laurel Stewart (Open Letter Intern), Brad Weslake (Dept. of Phil.), Phil Witte (Open Letter intern), and hosted by Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter.

(This event is hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)

29 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last week, Open Letter was highlighted as part of NewsHour‘s ongoing The Next Chapter in Reading series. It was pretty awesome to be interviewed for NewsHour, and I’m glad that I didn’t realize ahead of time how many star authors have participated in this series, otherwise I would’ve been much more nervous. (Rick Moody, Alberto Manguel, and Ursula Le Guin have all been featured.) Jeffrey Brown’s doing a great job with this, and I’m looking forward to future installments.

Anyway, here’s the video:

11 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

So now that the Best Translated Book Awards are over, I can fully concentrate on the next event—one for Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) that is taking place tonight at the Americas Society tonight at 7pm.

Our cheeky title for this event comes from Macedonio himself, who, within one of the fifty-some odd prologues to Museum, refers to the book as “The Best Novel since both It and the World Began.” Which is plan brilliant. Because it is one of the best novels ever written. It’s amazingly playful, innovative, and thought-provoking, but it’s also one of the most heartfelt love letters ever.

I’ll be moderating tonight’s event, which will feature superstar translator Edith Grossman (who is also the author Why Translation Matters), Margaret Schwartz (who translated Museum), and Todd Garth (author of The Self of the City: Macedonio Fernandez, the Argentine Avant-Garde, and Modernity in Buenos Aires). With such great panelists, and such an amazing subject (Macedonio may well be the quirkiest of all quirky writers), this is sure to be a spectacular event.

If you’re in the area and want to come out, the Americas Society is at 680 Park Avenue (68th St.). Here’s info on how to RSVP for the event:

Americas Society Members: membersres@americas-society.org or (212) 277-8359, ext. 4

Non-Members: Visit www.americas-society.org

Hope to see you there!

9 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next seven days, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis. Translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas. (Lithuania, Open Letter)

Vilnius Poker may well be one of the darkest and most dense books on the list. (OK, I know that’s not selling language, but I’m banking on the fact that the blurb below will wow everyone.) Using my insider knowledge, I can tell you that after reading the 20-page sample that Elizabeth Novickas sent us, everyone on the Open Letter editorial committee agreed that we had to publish this book. It’s complicated, occasionally humorous, fragmented, told from several conflicting viewpoints, inconclusive, and considered to be “the turning point in Lithuanian literature.” And more relevant to this award, the translation is spot-on.

The novel itself is set during Soviet times and centers around Vytautas Vargalys, a survivor of the labor camps who’s obsessed with Them, a shadowy group that’s taking over, crushing the souls of people, and turning the world to shit. Lolita—a young woman who just started working with Vytautas at an absurd library—is possibly one of Them, or Vytautas’s great love. As his mind continues to fall apart, their relationship takes a decidedly tragic turn . . .

This isn’t an easy book to describe, but I think translator Elizabeth Novickas does a great job in the essay that appeared in CALQUE:

When asked to come up with a summary of what the book is about, or a single section that could characterize it, I find myself groping at so many things that I’m completely at a loss. Yes, I suppose one could summarize something of the plot: there is a murder, a love story, four narrators, a number of characters, a more or less concrete time frame, and most certainly a concrete place, but how to include that time also goes around in circles, and on two occasions actually stops? And what to do with details of the plot that get told over and over, so that in the end you hardly know which version to believe, much less how to describe it? The best I can come up with, without writing a doctoral thesis on the subject, is also the simplest: this is a piece of fiction about life. The four narrators are all flawed people, but they are all people nevertheless, including the last narrator—the reincarnation of one of the characters as a dog. They make us squirm at their rawness, cringe at the depth of their self-deceptions, laugh at their stories, and in the end, when we see what cards they have been dealt, break our hearts.

Gavelis passed away in 2002, but not before writing a series of interesting books with great titles, such as The Life of Sun-Tzu in the Sacred City of Vilnius, The Last Generation of People on Earth, and Seven Ways to Commit Suicide.

Getting back to Vilnius Poker . . . most reviewers tend to focus on the section fo the book that Vytautas Vargalys narrates. And for good reason: it’s a brilliant, haunting, claustrophobic descent into madness that takes up half of the book. If you want to read a sample, click here. But to shake things up a bit, here’s a quote from the second section, narrated by Martynas Poska, a librarian and academic whose “log” is a bit more upbeat that V.V.‘s ravings, and puts what V.V. conveyed into a new light:

Half the world knows what a homo sovieticus is (excepting homo sovieticus himself). However, no one has studied homo lithuanicus, or even homo Vilnensis. These species matter as much to the future of mankind as to its history.

Mankind should be grateful to the Lithuanians that they exist. But it will never forgive them if they do not describe their experience of existence, if they don’t introduce the entire world to it.

Only a Lithuanian is qualified to write the opus “What is the Ass of the Universe.”

The history of the great nations has been explored backwards and forwards. It’s impossible to learn anything more from them. It’s paradoxical, but humanity knows much more about various archaic tribes than it does about the history of European minorities—that quintessence of injustice, absurdity, and errors. The world may be doomed for the simple reason that no one noticed our plight in time. An ethnologist who diligently researched some Albanians or another would be much more useful than one who had written up hundreds of obscure African tribes.

Never forget that we are all, in a certain sense, a bit Albanian. All of us are just a tad Lithuanian. And worst of all—every one of us, in the depths of our hearts, is a Vytautas Vargalys.

4 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next twelve days, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



The Discoverer by Jan Kjaerstad. Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland. (Norway, Open Letter)

Yes, The Discoverer is the third volume in Jan Kjaerstad’s “Wergeland Trilogy.” And yes, the other two books are also quite long. I only mention this because it was such a big deal to Tom Shone when he reviewed the book for the New York Times, and I quote:

Reviewing books doesn’t often feel like real work — not the kind of work that makes you break a sweat or join a union. So when an editor from The New York Times calls you up and asks if you want to review a new novel from Norway, and the novel turns out to be not only over 400 pages long and largely set in a fjord, but also Part 3 of a trilogy, Parts 1 and 2 of which ran to over 1,000 pages, with multiple narrators and a nonlinear time scheme — yeesss — then you jump at the chance to take your place as a worker among workers.

Which is kind of a shit way to start a review, no? It’s like saying “fuck modernism” because Ulysses is going to take a while to get through.

All that aside, I really want to point out that there’s no need to read the other two volumes in this series before reading The Discoverer. If you have read The Seducer (available from Overlook) and The Conqueror (from Open Letter) before approaching this book, the resonances will resonate that much more and the depth and awesomeness of the novel will be that much more complex and, well, awesome. But dif you can’t squeeze 1,000 pages of prose into your free time, don’t worry, here’s a little primer:

Jonas Wergeland is a Norwegian television celebrity responsible for “Thinking Big” an artsy program depicting a series of very important Norwegian people. He’s extremely popular. He’s bigger than Terry Gross plus Ken Burns. But following the mysterious death of his wife, he’s not quite so universally loved . . .

What’s fascinating about this trilogy—and the reason why you don’t need to read all three books to “get it”—is the way that each volume presents Jonas’s life and Margrete’s death in completely different ways. There’s some tricksy narrative stuff going on—who is narrating The Seducer and how do they know all the details of Jonas’s life? who is the woman giving the professor all the dirt on Jonas in The Conqueror?—but on a basic level it’s pretty straightforward: in The Seducer, Jonas is a superstar who is one degree from perfection and arrives home from a trip to find that his wife has been murdered, and in The Conqueror, he’s always has some violent urges which culminated in him murdering his wife. And in The Discoverer, he’s out of prison sailing down a fjord with his daughter and a group of young people working on a high-tech multimedia project.

For the first time in the trilogy, Jonas finally gets to speak for himself. And instead of really clarifying anything, he just adds another level of uncertainty as to what sort of person he is, and what actually happened to his wife. As Jan told me during his visit here to the States: people always turn to this volume for the “Real Truth” but in many ways it’s less reliable than either of the other two volumes . . .

And that’s Kjaerstad’s genius. The way these three separate visions overlap and interplay is absolutely brilliant. You can start anywhere with the series, and depending on the order in which you read these, you’ll end up with a different impression of Jonas, of what really happened, and of the various threads that tie together the three books.

Going back to the tricksy nature of these for a second: in all three books, the plot (or plots, since these are composed of hundreds of mini-stories from Jonas’s life), is way overshadowed by the overall structure of the book. The Seducer is organized like a fugue, with story nested inside of story, bouncing up and down between levels before coming to rest on the “present now” of Jonas arriving home to find his wife on the floor. The Conqueror is more like a mosaic in the form of a spiral, with little chunks of different stories coming up every hundred pages or so, gaining momentum as the book progresses, and leading to a hugely powerful payoff.

In many ways, The Discoverer is a much different, in some ways more mature, and—although it’s almost unbelievable to say so—more ambitious than the previous works. Although the meta-structures are very different, both of the other volumes are constructed from very short pieces that build on one another. The Discoverer is made up of eight longer chapters that are named after planets and moons (Jonas narrates the former, his daughter the latter) that weave several episodes from Jonas’s life into a highly literary, well-rounded (sic), almost standalone story.

I’d have to quote tens of pages to give you the full effect, but here’s a bit from the opening chapter, that sets the scene and motions toward the whole construction of this book, and the way is moves through the times of Jonas’s life:

Why did he do it?

One has to start somewhere, and a good, not to say almost perfect, departure point—or even, to stick with the climbing motif: viewpoint-from which to examine Jonas Wergeland’s life would be another stony edifice, another gallery, a hallowed hall, a room with walls of granite, and an autumn day in the 1980s—an autumn day which would bring with it deep sorrow and wisful joy, as well as a strange mystery, an incident bordering on the scandalous. Nor is it entirely inappropriate that Jonas should be at the organ, an instrument befitting his history and the pwoer which for so long he had exerted over the minds, not to say the souls, of the Norwegian people. Jonas Wergeland is playing the organ, framed by its gleaming, monumental face, making the whole church tremble with his playing, making the very stone, the bedrock of Norway, sing. He is not an organist, but he handles the instrument almost like a professional musician; he is an organist by nature, he might have been made for this part, this pose. No wonder he once replied when asked, in Samarkand, what he did for a living: “I am an organist.”

Scarcely an hour earlier, after collecting a pile of sheet music, he had closed the gate of the house he would soon be moving into and which people would dub Villa Wergeland, and set off down the road he had walked every day of his childhood. Wherever he turned his eye he risked becoming lost in memories: a life-threatening bonfire, the windows Ivan broke, the wallet in the ditch which brought him a heaven-sent fifty-krone reward, the magnetic, nipple-shaped doorbell on the front door of Anne Beate Corneliussen’s building. He sauntered along, wishing to prolong the poignant aspect of the moment. There was a strange mood in the air too. It felt as though there was no longer anyone living in the houses he passed. Even the shops looked deserted. It was an exceptionally dull day. Damp. The last leaves had fallen from the trees. The ground was covered with an indeterminate gunge, as if after an incredibly drunken party. The blocks of flats and the shopping center reminded him of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union. The whole of life seemed suddenly drab and dreary. And yet—in spite of all this—he felt hopeful. As if he knew that behind all the greyness lay something else, something surprising. Something is about to happen, he told himself.

Kjaerstad is a gifted writer, and even if it takes a year to work your way through all three books, it’s totally worth it.

1 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda. Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Spain, Open Letter)

The other day, I had a really interesting conversation with David Del Vecchio and Lewis Manalo of Idlewild Books about covers for literature in translation. All the BTBA longlist titles are on display at Idlewild (rock on!) and it’s really interesting to take these all in at once.

One of the things David pointed out was just how dark all these books were. (Sidenote: I REALLY HOPE that one day he’ll write a long piece for us about all of his cover observations—all of us publishers could learn a ton from listening to a bookseller like David. I mean, we’ve seen Sessalee at B&N influence the look of more commercial fiction—pictures of hair anyone?—so it’s only cool that a hip, indie bookstore could help shape the look of translated titles.) I hadn’t really thought about the look of all these titles together—see, I don’t judge a book by its . . . actually, yes I do, we all do—but seriously, look at The Ninth, The Skating Rink, Confessions of Noa Weber, and, cough, Death in Spring, and the impression you get is that all of these books are bleak, dark, somewhat depressing, etc.

Personally, I think the Death in Spring cover kicks some serious design ass, but I can see how someone looking at a tree made of various bones might get the impression that the book is a bit morbid . . . But well, you know, in contrast to some of the other BTBA titles that might misrepresent (Memories of the Future looks awful mechanistic for such an insanely funny book), this one is pretty spot-fucking-on. The book opens with the narrator’s father trying to bury himself in a tree in order to avoid the village’s traditional death ritual . . . His attempt fails in brutal, disturbing fashion:

They started to shout. They shouted at my father who had little remaining breath and was clearly near his end. He was still alive, but only his own death kept him alive. They dragged him from the tree, laid him on the ground, and began beating him. The last blows made no sound. Don’t kill him, shouted the cement man. The mortar trough, filled with rose-colored cement, lay at his feet. Don’t kill him before he has been filled. They pried his mouth partially open, and the cement man began to fill it. First with watery cement so it would slide far down inside him, then with thick cement. When he was well cemented, they stood him up and put him back inside the tree. They replaced the cross and left to prepare the Festa.

Welcome to Merce Rodoreda’s nightmare world.

To fans of her earlier works—especially The Time of the Doves, this is shocking and totally unexpected. But it does sort of fit an evolution of Rodoreda’s work. Doves is a more conventional story of a woman’s loves and losses during the time of the Spanish Civil War. It’s gorgeous and lush, and has something in common with Virginia Woolf’s writing. But then there’s A Broken Mirror, which chronicles the dissolution of a family in three distinct sections, each written with a different tone and sensibility, starting with a more Victorian feel, then turning modernist, and ending with a very fractured, post-modern section. And then comes Death in Spring.

Death in Spring is a very surreal, violent (even houses are “upwrenched”) novel that traces the life of a young boy, through whose eyes we witness the terrifying and incomprehensible rituals that shape life in the village. In addition to the cement-pouring ritual (which is freaky) and the burying people inside of trees bit, there’s also the annual “trip down the river,” in which one unlucky person has to float through the river running under the village to clear out any rocks blocking the water’s passage . . .

The book can be interpreted in several ways—as a metaphor for life under Franco, as a creepy bildungsroman, so on—but one constant is the beauty of Rodoreda’s prose, especially as she struggles to convey something that’s almost beyond words. (To be honest: I’m stealing some of the comments Erica Mena made about this book and all of the times “language fails” in the book.) Personally, I think this is one of the most important books Open Letter has published so far. I can envision scholars and readers debating this a hundred years from now—and studying Martha Tennent’s inventive translation.

So I’ll leave off with another passage that’s beautifully sad:

When they pulled the boy from the river, he was dead; they returned him to the river. Those who died in the water were returned to the water. The river carried them away and nothing was ever known of them again. But at night, at the spot where the bodies were thrown into the water, a shadow could be seen. Not every night. Not today or tomorrow, but on certain nights a shadow trembled. They said the shadow of the dead returned to the place where the man was born. They said that to die was to merge with the shadow. That summer, the shadow of the boy was clearly distinguishable. It was unmistakably him because he had been separated from one of his arms, and the shadow had but one arm. Struggling against the current, the shadow—which was only will, not body or voice—attempted to slip beneath the village. And as the shadow struggled, the prisoner neighed.

13 January 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Over the next five weeks, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch. Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. (Poland, Open Letter)

The Mighty Angel is a difficult book to talk about. Although, ironically, this glass of wine is totally loosening me up. BTW, I’m writing this on Saturday night—not completely inappropriate time to be drinking. But seriously, how can one relate humor, the joy that comes from reading about a writer (named Jerzy) who is a life-long alcoholic and spends most of his time either getting out of rehab or going on the bender that will send him right back? How can a novel that relates—in painfully true to life detail—story after story of people hitting rock bottom, of people destroying their lives for another drink, another high, another lost night, how can a novel with this much pain and pathos also be incredibly fun to read?

It’s Pilch’s genius to be able to craft a narrative that’s both honest and deceiving. That doesn’t pull punches when exposing his character flaws, but does so in a way that makes it seem like he might be writing himself better, so to speak. That by putting these things down, by conveying them in a way that you can relate, that you can see the problem, that if he can do that, he can cure himself.

The eternally postponed notion of repairing my old washing machine or buying a new one eventually perished of its own accord, to a large extent independently of my foibles. In my life I’ve drunk away a vast amount of money, I’ve spend a fortune on vodka, but the reprehensible moment of drinking away a sum set aside for the repair of my washing machine has never occurred. I make this confession not with pride in my heart but with a sense of abasement. For the fact that I never drank away a sum of money set aside for the repair of my washing machine arises from the fact that I never set aside any sum of money for the repair of my washing machine in the first place. Before I ever managed to set aside a particular sum for the repair of the washing machine, I drank it away along with all the other sums of money not yet set aside for any special purpose. I drank away the money before I’d had time to set it aside for something else; therefore I can say, seemingly contradicting myself (yet only seemingly, for in the former case there was only a small quantifier, while in this case there is a large one), I can say then that in fact I did drink away the money for the repair of the washing machine. I drank away the money for a whole series of repairs, I drank away the money for all possible repairs. What am I saying, repairs? I drank away the money for an entire new washing machine, I drank away a whole series of new washing machines, I drank away a thousand new washing machines, I drank away a million new automatic washing machines, I drank away a billion state-of-the-art washing machines. I drank away all the washing machines in the world.

This sort of honest humor runs throughout the book and creates a very untrustworthy narrator. One who always believes salvation is right around the corner in the form of one girl or another who will serve as his caretaker and will cure him. And every time he ends up right back in the alco ward . . . Which makes the ending of this novel so intriguing and conversation-provoking . . .

Bit of bio info on Jerzy Pilch: he is the author of sixteen volumes, including His Current Woman (published by Northwestern University Press some time back), A Thousand Peaceful Cities (forthcoming from Open Letter), and My First Suicide and Other Stories (also forthcoming from Open Letter). Pilch’s works have been nominated for the NIKE Literary Award on four occasions, with The Mighty Angel winning the award in 2001. One interesting tidbit about Pilch is that he’s a Lutheran—obviously pretty unusual in Poland—and includes a lot of Lutheran stuff in his novels.

But going back to The Mighty Angel, I think the best place to end this post is with this observation by the narrator: “I’m aware, I really am fully aware that it’s impossible, in my case especially it’s impossible, to live a long and happy life when you drink. But how can you live a long and happy life if you don’t drink?”

28 December 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

A few weeks ago, Larry Rohter of the New York Times came up to interview just about everyone involved in Open Letter and the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation programs. The piece he was working on appeared in the paper over the weekend.

So, if you’re curious what we’re doing up here, and if you’re reading this I assume you have to be at least a little curious, the article will give you a good overview of our program and vision.

23 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Only seems appropriate that just before Christmas we should announce our summer list of titles . . . You can click here to download a pdf version of the new catalog (which contains excerpts from all the books), or, for those of you who are anti-pdf, the list below has the basic information for the next five Open Letter titles.

All of these titles will be available through better bookstores everywhere and through the Open Letter website. Additionally, you can subscribe and receive a year’s worth of books (10 in total) for $100 (free shipping!). Or get a six-month subscription (5 books) for only $60 (again, with free shipping).

Here are the titles from one of our best lists yet:

Gasoline by Quim Monzó (excerpt)
translated from the Catalan by Mary Ann Newman

For the first time in his life, Heribert Juliá is unable to paint. On the eve of an important gallery exhibition, for which he’s created nothing, he’s bored with life: he falls asleep while making love with his mistress, wanders from bar to bar, drinking whatever comes to his attention first, and meets the evidence of his wife Helena’s infidelity with complete indifference. Humbert Herrera, an up-and-coming artist who can’t stop creating, picks up the threads of Heribert’s life, taking his wife, replacing him at the gallery, and pursuing his former mistress. Heribert is finally undone by a massive sculpture, while Humbert is planning the sculpture to end sculpture, the poem to end poetry, and the film to end film, all while mounting three simultaneous shows.

A fun-house mirror through which he examines the creative process, the life and loves of artists, and the New York art scene, Gasoline confirms Quim Monzó as the foremost Catalan writer of his generation.

A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch (excerpt)
translated from the Polish by David Frick

A comic gem, Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities takes place in 1963, in the latter days of the Polish post-Stalinist “thaw.” The narrator, Jerzyk (“little Jerzy”), is a teenager who is keenly interested in his father, a retired postal administrator, and his father’s closest friend, Mr. Traba, a failed Lutheran clergyman, alcoholic, would-be Polish insurrectionist, and one of the wildest literary characters since Laurence Sterne’s Uncle Toby. One drunken afternoon, Mr. Traba and the narrator’s nameless father decide to take charge of their lives and do one final good turn for humanity: travel to distant Warsaw and assassinate the de facto Polish head of state, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Władysław Gomułka—assassinating Mao Tse-tung, after all, would be impractical. And they decide to involve Jerzyk in their scheme . . .

The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra (excerpt)
translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

The Private Lives of Trees tells the story of a single night: a young professor of literature named Julián is reading to his step-daughter Daniela and nervously waiting for his wife Verónica to return from her art class. Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees to tell Daniela before she goes to sleep—and each Sunday he works on a novel about a man tending to his bonsai—but something about this night is different. As Julián becomes increasing concerned that Verónica won’t return, he reflects on their life together in minute detail, and imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at twenty-five, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel.

Perhaps even more daring and dizzying than Zambra’s magical Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees demands to be read in a single sitting, and it casts a spell that will bring you back to it again and again.

Klausen by Andreas Maier (excerpt)
translated from the German by Kenneth Northcott

Nobody knows exactly what happened in the small town of Klausen, or rather, everyone knows: a bomb went off on the autobahn, or at a shack near the autobahn, or someone was shooting at the town from a bridge; it all stems from a fight over measuring noise pollution on the town square, or it was the work of eco-terrorists, or Italians. And while nobody knows who or what to blame—although they’re certainly uneasy about the Moroccan and Albanian immigrants who are squatting in an abandoned castle—they all suspect that Josef Gasser, who spent several years away from Klausen, in Berlin, is behind it all. Only one thing is clear: Klausen was now a crime scene.

In Klausen, Andreas Maier has taken Thomas Bernhard’s method—the nested indirect speech, the repetition, the endless paragraph—and pointed it at an entire town. A town where one confusion leads to the next, where everyone is living in a fog of rumor, but where everyone claims to know exactly what’s going on, even if they’ve changed their story several times.

To Hell with Cronjé by Ingrid Winterbach (excerpt)
translated from the Afrikaans by Elsa Silke

Two scientists, Reitz Steyn and Ben Maritz, find themselves in a “transit camp for those temporarily and permanently unfit for battle” during the Boer War. Captured on suspicion of desertion and treason—during a trek across an unchanging desert of bushes, rocks, and ant hills to help transport a fellow-soldier, who has suffered debilitating shell-shock, to his mother—they are forced to await the judgment of a General Bergh, unsure whether they are to be conscripted into Bergh’s commando, allowed to continue their mission, or executed for treason. As the weeks pass, and the men’s despair at ever returning to their families reaches its peak, they are sent on a bizarre mission . . .

A South African Heart of Darkness, Ingrid Winterbach’s To Hell with Cronjé is a poetic exploration of friendship and camaraderie, an eerie reflection on the futility of war, and a thought-provoking re-examination of the founding moments of the South African nation.

As a special preview, coming up in the fall 2010 are: Mathias Énard’s Zone, Juan José Saer’s Glosa, Bragi Ólafsson’s The Ambassadors, and a couple more titles we’re still working on. More information as soon as we have it . . .

21 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Early this month, Open Letter released its new translation of The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov, a satiric Russian writing duo from the 1930s who are most well known for this novel and its predecessor, The Twelve Chairs , which was made into a Mel Brooks movie. Both of these books are insanely funny, although to be honest, I think Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich’s translation of The Golden Calf is much better at capturing the wit and sharp observations found in the original. (Click here for an excerpt so you can see what I mean.) (As a further sidenote: it will always be amazing to me how seamless and of a single voice this book is, despite the fact that four people wrote/translated it.

As is noted on the back of the book, press materials, etc., this is the “first complete translation” of the novel. A few people have asked about this, curious as to what political jabs the Soviet censors cut from the original. Well, here to explain is Konstantin Gurevich, one of the translators, and probably the most knowledgeable person in America when it comes to The Golden Calf and Ilf and Petrov in general.

“Filling in Gaps in The Golden Calf“ by Konstantin Gurevich

Anybody even vaguely familiar with Soviet history would look at the birth and death dates of Ilf (1897-1937) and Petrov (1903-1942) and assume that one perished in Stalin’s purges and the other either in the purges or in World War II. Petrov was indeed a war casualty, killed in a plane crash returning from the front lines as a war correspondent. Ilf, however, died of tuberculosis in his own bed, in a reasonably comfortable apartment not far from the Kremlin. A good assumption, but only partially true.

By the same token, when “uncensored” versions of The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf first appeared in the 1990s, some fans expected to discover previously unknown references and satire that might possibly change their view of Ilf & Petrov’s famous novels.

Nothing of the sort. There were no hidden allusions, no references to Trotsky or other villains of Soviet propaganda, no political humor that we weren’t already familiar with. The differences were largely editorial, and in the case of The Golden Calf, very minor.

In fact, comparing the recent edition of The Golden Calf on which we based our translation (Open Letter, 2009) with the 1976 Soviet edition that we own, we found exactly three gaps that were clearly the product of political censorship.

  • In “From the Authors,” the name of the then-Prosecutor General, Krylenko, was omitted. Nikolai Krylenko was executed in 1938 and officially remained “the enemy of the people” for many years.
  • In Chapter 2, all references to the Volga Germans were excised. These Germans were exiled to Siberia and Central Asia in 1941, shortly after the Nazi invasion began, and their republic was dissolved.
  • In Chapter 9, the word “bandits” is missing from the sentence “Look what they did, those bandits Marx and Engels!”

Not much for a novel that’s well over 300 pages long.

Moreover, there are good reasons to believe that all these omissions were made years after the early Russian editions of The Golden Calf had appeared—if only because neither Krylenko nor the Volga Germans were taboos back then, while the “bandits” do appear in the first English translation of the novel (1932).

Nevertheless, our translation does include some text that didn’t appear in either of the two previous translations, but this is not because of political censorship. These are the entire From the Authors piece and a few paragraphs in the beginning of Chapter 7 (the Romualdych vignette).

In addition, the first translation skips almost two pages in the beginning of Chapter 9, while the second (1962) omits several other passages (e.g., in Chapters 9, 18, and 27), some half-a-page long. This is why we consider our translation the first complete English translation of The Golden Calf.

We do not know whether the publishers or the translators themselves were responsible for the gaps in both previous translations—or what their reasons were. But in 1932, Ilf and Petrov were viewed in the West as young new authors. By 1962, they would have been perceived as cult novelists. Today, their books are undisputed classics of Russian literature: The Golden Calf alone has inspired two movies, a TV miniseries, and statues of its main characters in places like St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Odessa. These texts have to be treated with respect.

25 November 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Our 2 for $22 deal (pick 2 Open Letter books for $22 flat, and you’re automatically entered to win a year of free books) is coming to a close, so if you haven’t checked it out—or did and were planning to order later—now is the time . . .

6 November 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

By the way, we sometimes post here the highlights of goings-on at Open Letter, but if you really want to keep up-to-date on Open Letter news, events, reviews, releases, the occasional book giveaway, and etc., don’t forget that Open Letter has it’s own RSS news feed to which you may happily subscribe . . .

5 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

We’re interrupting the longest posts known to bloggers to officially announce a grant that we received from Amazon.com to support The Wall in My Head. Here’s the official press release:

Open Letter Books has been awarded a $20,000 grant from Amazon.com to support the publication and promotion of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, an anthology of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition to supporting the publication of this book, the grant supports the Wall in My Head blog, a website featuring excerpts from the book, historical images, and new essays about life in Eastern Europe before and after the collapse of Communism.

This anthology was conceived by the editors of Words Without Borders — an online magazine specializing in international literature — and the publication of Wall on November 9th will correspond with a special issue of Words Without Borders that is also dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall and sponsored by Amazon.com.

The Wall in My Head includes work from more than thirty contributors and almost as many translators, as well as over seventy photographs and images of historic documents. The written pieces date from both before and after the fall of the Wall, and highlights include seminal excerpts from the work of Milan Kundera, Peter Schneider, Ryszard Kapuściński, Vladimir Sorokin, and Victor Pelevin, as well as new work from Péter Esterházy, Andrzej Stasiuk, Dorota Masłowska, Uwe Tellkamp, and Dan Sociu.

“Our goal with Open Letter Books,” according to director Chad W. Post, “is to increase the access American readers have to the best works and ideas from cultures around the world, and The Wall in My Head is a perfect example of how we achieve this. It’s especially gratifying that Amazon.com is interested in helping us to achieve this goal. Their support will definitely help us strengthen our efforts and reach a larger audience than we otherwise might have.”

Founded in 2007 at the University of Rochester, Open Letter publishes between ten and twelve titles each year, all in translation. Some of its authors include Dubravka Ugresic, Jan Kjærstad, Marguerite Duras, and Jorge Volpi. In addition, it runs Three Percent, an online blog and review site dedicated to spreading the word about international literature. Open Letter also works closely with University of Rochester students, as part of the University’s programs in Literary Translation Studies.

In addition to Open Letter, Amazon.com has awarded grants over the past six months to a diverse range of not-forprofit author and publisher groups, including 826 Seattle, Children’s Book Week, Poets & Writers, Seattle Arts and Lectures, Richard Hugo House, Artist Trust, Hedgebrook, Copper Canyon Press, National Novel Writing Month, Clarion West, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. A number of the recipients — such as Pen America, Words Without Borders, and the Center for the Art of Translation — are, like Open Letter, dedicated to bringing
more international writers to the attention of English language readers.

The official publication date for The Wall in My Head is November 9, 2009. More information about this and other Open Letter titles can be found at the press’s website.

4 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know we’ve been pretty quiet on the book reviewing front (but soon—I really want to recommend the new Brandao book . . .), but at long last, we’ve added a piece on The Wall in My Head to our Review section.

I would be tempted to apologize for the self-promotional nature of posting a review of one of our own books (god knows why, that’s exactly how other publishers use their blogs), but this book came into existence thanks to Alane Mason, Rohan Kamicheril, Sal Robinson, Gemma Bentley, and the wonderful people at Words Without Borders. They deserve a ton of credit—even more than can be delivered in this glowing review.

As a sidenote, we are having a special event for this book next Tuesday at Idlewild Books in New York City. Event starts at 6pm and features Dorota Maslowska (Poland), the author of Snow White and Russian Red, and winner of the Nike prize; Dan Sociu(Romania), the author of Urbancholia; Masha Gessen (Russia), author of Ester and Ruzya: How my Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace; and Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany), author of Alle Sterben, auch Die Loeffelstoere. The event will be moderated by Eliot Borenstein, Chair of the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, and the author of Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture.

But on with the review . . . This was written by Jessica LeTourneur, who is from Chicago, attended NYU’s Publishing Institute in 2005, has worked as a journalist, a librarian, an indie bookstore clerk, and once upon a time, at The Missouri Review and W. W. Norton & Company, and currently is pursuing a Master’s degree in History and Scholarly Publishing at Arizona State University.

Here’s the opening of her piece:

I was born in the final decade of communism’s flailing grasp on the Eastern Bloc, and so what I know of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism has long been relegated to what I learned from middle school textbooks, and teachers who had to explain to us why those maps we were so diligently studying were made obsolete overnight. The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain has aided in filling in that gap in my education through its poignant words and images that have left an indelible impression upon me long after I turned the last page. For me, the globe I keep on top of my bookcase from the early 1980s is a quirky relic, but for those whose contributions make up this extraordinary book, those lines and colors that have been redrawn in the past two decades were once ‘home’.

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall coming up—it takes place next week on November 9th—this tremendous, and at times wrenching compilation of stories and images is a truly revelatory experience for any reader, no matter what country or decade they were born into.

This book is also a prime example of the quality anthologies that Words Without Borders has put out into the marketplace over the past several years. (Other publications include Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations, New Press, September 2006, and Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, Anchor Books, March 2007).

The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain is an exceptional anthology that is jointly published by Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books. It contains stories written by the greats whose names are immediately recognizable—Milan Kundera, Vladimir Sorokin, Peter Esterhazy, as well as those who may be lesser-known in the United States (for now), but are nonetheless astonishingly talented writers and artists.

Click here for the full review.

4 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was born in the final decade of communism’s flailing grasp on the Eastern Bloc, and so what I know of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism has long been relegated to what I learned from middle school textbooks, and teachers who had to explain to us why those maps we were so diligently studying were made obsolete overnight. The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain has aided in filling in that gap in my education through its poignant words and images that have left an indelible impression upon me long after I turned the last page. For me, the globe I keep on top of my bookcase from the early 1980s is a quirky relic, but for those whose contributions make up this extraordinary book, those lines and colors that have been redrawn in the past two decades were once ‘home’.

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall coming up—it takes place next week on November 9th—this tremendous, and at times wrenching compilation of stories and images is a truly revelatory experience for any reader, no matter what country or decade they were born into.

This book is also a prime example of the quality anthologies that Words Without Borders has put out into the marketplace over the past several years. (Other publications include Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations, New Press, September 2006, and Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, Anchor Books, March 2007).

The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain is an exceptional anthology that is jointly published by Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books. It contains stories written by the greats whose names are immediately recognizable—Milan Kundera, Vladimir Sorokin, Peter Esterhazy, as well as those who may be lesser-known in the United States (for now), but are nonetheless astonishingly talented writers and artists.

The strength of the collection lies in its diversity—writers from all corners of Eastern Europe share their wide-ranging experiences in varying narrative form—from the epistolary in Mihaly Kornis’s “Petition” to Eugen Jebeleanu’s “Poems from Secret Weapon_”, _The Wall in My Head features a unique collection of fiction, nonfiction, photos, and images of historical documents that all together contribute to a distinctive book that sheds light on what life was, and has been for several generations of writers, activists, and artists who witnessed the collapse of Communism first-hand.

Wladimir Kaminer’s “Paris Lost” illustrates both the ridiculousness as well as the paranoia that gripped communist countries to such an extent that Kazakhstan found itself constructing its own fake Paris and London, only to later tear it down when the government’s fear that the people would discover the truth precipitated the need. In “Moving House” by Pawel Huelle a dining table comes between a marriage, until the day when its legs are (literally) cut down from underneath it:

My father, so handy at repairs, couldn’t fix Mr. Polaske’s table, or rather, couldn’t fix its uneven legs. After each cut, it would turn out that one of the legs was a little shorter than the others. Possessed by the fury of perfection, or maybe the German methodicalness, my father refused to admit defeat: he shortened and shortened the legs, until at last an extraordinary sight presented itself. On the floor, beside heaps of sawn-off bits of wood and a sea of sawdust, lay the top of Mr. Polaske’s table, legless, like a great brown shield. My mother’s eyes glittered with emotion, my father’s look was black as thunder, but nothing could stop him from finishing what he’d begun. The snarling saw began to rip into the tabletop. My father puffed and panted, and my mother held her breath, until at long last she cried: “Well, finally!”

The Wall wasn’t just an architectural structure separating the East from the West. Its physical presence was a catalyst for the symbolic and mental state that also divided granddaughters from grandmothers (“My Grandmother the Censor”), brothers from sisters, (“Brother and Sister”), as well as parting lovers (“Nabokov in Brasov”). While some of the writers in The Wall in My Head embrace the past and pursue their desire to peel back the layers of their history and pasts, others clearly demarcate the wall in their head as a place where they are either unable, or unwilling to remember communism’s lingering legacy. Says Dorota Maslowska in “Faraway, So Gross”:

Do I remember Communism? But I have to remember something, right? Drag some nugget of the swirling muck of memory, strip it of superfluous detail, snap a shot of the heroes’ faces and let them march across the table, funny or forlorn, in rain slickers and stupid old boots that say “Relax” on their tags, with mesh shopping bags hanging low from the greenish, budding potatoes rumbling around inside. . . . In fact, I don’t remember anything in particular from that time, barely any event at all, barely any feeling, just this sort of grayness and nausea raised to the highest degree, such that it was almost the idea of grayness. . . . Memory is shush, a muddy puddle in which the little ships of things now sink, now surface triumphantly. I remember Communism exclusively as a style and an aesthetic category.

While there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of weighty academic tomes, dissertations, and other narratives analyzing communism and its aftereffects in the two decades since the Wall came down, The Wall in My Head offers the reader a remarkably one-of-a-kind reading experience through its variety and superiority in content, writers, and prose. Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books have really hit the mark with this brilliant collection.

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.

17 September 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Continuing our proud tradition (does two times equal a tradition?) of posting galley’s online so that anyone and everyone who’s interested may get a preview, you can now view the ARC of The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov.

This new translation of The Golden Calf—a true classic of Russian literature—marks the first time the complete text is available to English readers. Translated by Konstantin Gurevich & Helen Anderson, it’s based on the uncensored original, and it restores material missing from earlier English versions. It is also the funniest novel of the Soviet era.

The widget below will give you a slick, little (literally) preview, and you can also click through to view a full-sized version for a limited time. The book is scheduled for release in December, but, until then, you can always find out more (and pre-order any time . . .) via the Open Letter page right here.

13 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a piece by Nigel Beale on Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete. Usually we don’t run reviews of our own books (which initially seemed like a good idea, but sort of doesn’t make sense, since Open Letter books are as interesting as a lot of the titles we do review, and we are trying to cover the world of international literature as broadly as possible), but hell, it’s The Year of Jakov Lind. (And I’m still working on my review of Bolano’s The Skating Rink.)

Nigel Beale is a freelance writer/broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. His articles and reviews have appeared in, among other places, The Washington Post, The (Manchester) Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Bookseller, BorderCrossings and Canadian Art magazines. In his role as host of The Biblio File radio program he has interviewed many of the world’s most admired authors; plus publishers, booksellers, editors, book collectors, librarians, conservators, illustrators, and others connected with the book. (We’ve posted about a few of his interviews, including the one I did, this recent one with Ha Jin, and the hysterical one with John Metcalf. )

Here’s the opening of his review of Lind’s creepyfunny WWII novel:

We meet a familiar angst-ridden Russian early in the pages of Jacov Lind’s novel Landscape in Concrete: Dostoevsky’s Underground man surfaces in the guise of Gauthier Bachmann to here tread the desolate earth of the Ardennes during WW ll. No longer confined by inertia to his wretched little room, this protagonist is on the road—a bleak, inhuman, carnage scarred road—blindly journeying in search of meaning and identity. It’s as if the contents of a diseased mind have spilled out into the real world.

And indeed, after witnessing unbelievably shocking scenes, it is hard to regain a grasp on real, ordinary life. Such is Bachmann’s lot. A sergeant in the German army, he has, as the book begins, just fought in a battle at Voroshenko and seen his entire regiment slaughtered , sunk in a quagmire of blood and mud.

Throughout the book, Lind then dips us, episodically, into the hell of Bachmann’s post-traumatic existence and his logical/illogical flight back to what he knows. Against “human” nature he wants willfully to expose himself again to the horror of war; in this sense perhaps he is ill: unwilling or incapable of caring; unable to hope. He has seen friends and countrymen blown to bits; what reason is there to live? He is filled with uncertainty too: about what constitutes a “man,” whether or not he is one, whether he is diseased, dead or alive, real or make-believe. Returning to the simple order that the army offers is perhaps all he has to hang on to, because good, honest, stable “normal” life and relationships aren’t found in the world he now inhabits.

Voroshenko renders Bachmann “unfit for duty.” Despite this, he journeys throughout the Ardennes in quest of a fighting unit he can once again join; to which he can “belong.” Neither “spiteful nor kind, rascal nor honest man, hero nor insect,” Bachmann stoically sinks into depravity, abdicating responsibility for his actions, numbly stumbling around, Lear-like, encountering and succumbing to the wishes of evil, indecent characters, willing to do anything to fill the void.

Bachmann, unlike the Underground Man, acts. But he acts in the wrong way. No one, Victor Frankl tells us, in Man’s Search for Meaning, has the right to do wrong. Bachmann does wrong. He acts indecently.

Click here for the full review.

13 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We meet a familiar angst-ridden Russian early in the pages of Jakov Lind’s novel Landscape in Concrete: Dostoevsky’s Underground man surfaces in the guise of Gauthier Bachmann to here tread the desolate earth of the Ardennes during WW ll. No longer confined by inertia to his wretched little room, this protagonist is on the road—a bleak, inhuman, carnage scarred road—blindly journeying in search of meaning and identity. It’s as if the contents of a diseased mind have spilled out into the real world.

And indeed, after witnessing unbelievably shocking scenes, it is hard to regain a grasp on real, ordinary life. Such is Bachmann’s lot. A sergeant in the German army, he has, as the book begins, just fought in a battle at Voroshenko and seen his entire regiment slaughtered, sunk in a quagmire of blood and mud.

Throughout the book, Lind then dips us, episodically, into the hell of Bachmann’s post-traumatic existence and his logical/illogical flight back to what he knows. Against “human” nature he wants willfully to expose himself again to the horror of war; in this sense perhaps he is ill: unwilling or incapable of caring; unable to hope. He has seen friends and countrymen blown to bits; what reason is there to live? He is filled with uncertainty too: about what constitutes a “man,” whether or not he is one, whether he is diseased, dead or alive, real or make-believe. Returning to the simple order that the army offers is perhaps all he has to hang on to, because good, honest, stable “normal” life and relationships aren’t found in the world he now inhabits.

Voroshenko renders Bachmann “unfit for duty.” Despite this, he journeys throughout the Ardennes in quest of a fighting unit he can once again join; to which he can “belong.” Neither “spiteful nor kind, rascal nor honest man, hero nor insect,” Bachmann stoically sinks into depravity, abdicating responsibility for his actions, numbly stumbling around, Lear-like, encountering and succumbing to the wishes of evil, indecent characters, willing to do anything to fill the void.

Bachmann, unlike the Underground Man, acts. But he acts in the wrong way. No one, Victor Frankl tells us, in Man’s Search for Meaning, has the right to do wrong. Bachmann does wrong. He acts indecently.

The first person he meets is a mole of a man, Xaver Schnotz, who has deserted his nearby unit after poisoning a kitchen worker to death with “piptol.” Here, exampling Lind’s blunt descriptive powers, is how it works:

“Your eyes crawl out of their sockets like snails and they can’t get back in. (He tittered.) Your tongue gets stiff and hard as shoe leather, black leather, and your nostrils contract so tight you couldn’t stick a needle in, they close up as if there’s never been any holes, your ears hang down like dry leaves, and your hands cramp up like this, they turn into claws (he demonstrated, tittering again), and then, very very slowly, you suffocate. That’s piptol, friend.”

Starving, Bachmann and Schnotz engage in a frantic, hilarious fight over who gets to eat the liver of a freshly bagged chicken. The next day Bachmann turns Schnotz back into the authorities in hopes of securing a commission for himself. Commander Von Goritz tests Bachmann by ordering him to execute a saboteur who looks “strikingly like Schnotz.” Bachmann obeys, and, despite guilt, justifies his actions, Nuremburg-style, by telling himself that he is just following orders. His warped enterprise, the gaining of purpose through re-enrollment in the army, trumps any humane instincts he may have once owned. Whenever behavior doesn’t align with belief, self-hatred will follow, and illness is sure to be near; as Dostoevsky put it: can those who enjoy the feeling of their own degradation possibly have a spark of respect for themselves?

The grizzly slide into depravity continues as Bachmann is later ordered to kill Baron Elshoved and members of his family:

Cut him open, came Halftan’s placid voice. With his left hand Bachmann held the back of Thor’s neck and with his right cut him open from throat to abdomen. He had to step aside quickly, for the blood gushed like a spring when the stone is taken away. A man is full of blood, the way a balloon is full of air. It was always fun to burst balloons, it made a bang, it was exciting. A man doesn’t make any bang. Thor wheezed and collapsed. The knife had gone through part of his windpipe. Bachmann let him down slowly with his left hand. Woudn’t want the poor kid to fall on his head.

Here is the written equivalent it seems of Francis Bacon’s raw, Godless depiction of man as no more than blood, guts, and intestines in his painting Three Studies for a Crucifixion.

Bachmann is calm after the abattoir. But he has no monopoly on depravity. Others in fact descend deeper into the pit, showing us “the plague called man.” The remaining daughter Gudrin, for example, steps forward, unafraid, expressing pleasure at her family’s slaughter . . . “That’s what I’ve always longed for . . .” and a willingness to be taken. Though Halftan had thought of it often, of taking her by cajolery, by force, “now that there’s nothing more to fear, neither parents nor brothers, now that I could kill her, I don’t want her any more.”

The nadir is reached at the end of the book, as Bachmann, after an air-raid shatters a blissful togetherness with his girlfriend, ravishes her. “Behind closed eyelids he saw the brown Cyclopses of her breasts, he slid over the bloated white body, grazed the reddish weeds that grew out of the hollow, and dwelt at length on the fattened turkey backs of her haunches.”

Landscape in Concrete is filled with appropriately harsh, disturbing passages like these. At times the similes don’t quite work, “Bachmann was heavy and shapeless, like the clouds that covered the fields . . .” but for the most part they do, and there are passages in this book which affect, as Kafka tells us important work should, “like a disaster, that grieves us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide.”

Read and be affected by it, but as an antidote, remember that life is not what happens to us—but rather, how we choose to respond.

1 June 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

We want to graciously thank all of you for the overflowing response to our first $10 fundraising campaign. As we said at the beginning, these contributions truly add up to a very significant total. What’s more, the demonstration that there is a broad base of support for literature in translation is something that can’t be overestimated.

Although donations are always welcome, we are technically the final days of this drive. So, if you have a few dollars and two minutes, please think about clicking here to make a quick contribution before it’s over.

A $10 (or so) donation may not seem like a lot, but it all comes together to support Open Letter’s books, websites, and programs.

Again, thanks—sincerely—to all of you for your contributions to our very first fundraising effort, and, if you haven’t already, please consider joining in.

30 March 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you probably noticed, we underwent a pretty significant redesign over the weekend. E.J. could explain this a lot better than I can, but basically, over the past two years, we’ve come to use the site is a slightly different way than initially conceived. When launched, we had no idea Three Percent would come to host the only Translation Database tracking U.S. publications, or the Best Translated Book Award. And even our most recent idea of a monthly bookstore feature was getting a bit lost in the old design . . .

So E.J. came up with what you see here. The big difference is the top menu which now has links to Open Letter Books, the Best Translated Book Award, the Translation Database, and the Translation Studies program at the University of Rochester. (The other striking change is that it’s no longer orange.)

Some things are still in progress—especially the column on the far right, which currently has “links.” Soon (this week?) that will become the “featured bookstore of the month” column, and will also contain a calendar of nationwide translation related events . . .

But in the meantime, if you have any comments, suggestions, etc., please e-mail them to me (chad.post at rochester dot edu) or to E.J. (e.j.vanlanen at rochester dot edu).

E.J.: Definitely let me know if anything isn’t working properly on your end. There are a lot of moving parts, and I’m sure to have missed a bunch of things.

5 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.



The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers. (Brazil, Open Letter)

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca — the one Open Letter title to make the Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist — was one of the first titles that we signed on. (And just to clarify, no one affiliated with Open Letter voted for any OL titles, and won’t when it comes to the shortlist either.)

In the summer of 2007, a few years after receiving a National Endwoment for the Arts Translation Fellowship to work on a Fonseca story project, Clifford Landers e-mailed me the fully translated manuscript for what became The Taker and Other Stories. Ever since reading High Art and Vast Emotions & Imperfect Thoughts I had been interested in finding out more about Fonseca and his work.

It’s a bit tricky to find out more about Fonseca himself. He’s a notorious recluse (although he was very quick to respond to my initial e-mail about publishing his work), and is friends with Thomas Pynchon. (Which, I think, is how the Pynchon quote on the cover of our book came about. I found out about it when David Kipen, Director of Literature at the NEA and Pynchon fanatic, directed me to the Portuguese version on this site. Although I feel like I should bend the truth and tell everyone we got this from The Man Himself. Now the amazing Stewart O’Nan quote we did get . . . )

The work itself is a bit easier. Fonseca’s published eight novels, and is the author of numerous short stories (only some of which are included in this collection). He received the Juan Rulfo Award in 2003 (since renamed), and as mentioned above, a couple of his books were published in English back some years ago. His most famous literary creation is probably Mandrake, a cynical and amoral lawyer who is the basis of an HBO series of the same name.

This book was the first collection of Fonseca’s stories to be published in English. Which is somewhat surprising, since in his native Brazil, Fonseca’s short stories are what really made his reputation. (But as almost every editor in the U.S. and UK will tell you, “short stories don’t sell.” And the battle between sales and art rages on . . .)

The stories themselves are frequently violent. In the title story, a young man is pushed to grander and more destructive acts of violence thanks in part to his new girlfriend. “Night Drive,” the full text of which is available here, starts so peacefully, until the narrator goes out driving to unwind . . .

Fonseca’s depictions of the seedier side of Rio are amazing, but not all of his stories are filled with crimes. One of my personal favorites is “The Enemy,” a story about a middle-aged man thinking about the time he tried to reconnect with his high school friends to reminisce about when Roberto flew and Ulpiniano the Gentle was resurrected only to see how everyone had moved on, and remembered nothing of that mystical time. It’s a heartbreaking story, and one that made me decide that we really had to publish this collection.

“The Eleventh of May” is a funny and haunting story about an insurrection in a somewhat surreal nursing home, and “The Notebook” is a funny, and bit misogynistic, story about a man who keeps a notebook detailing all his “conquests.”

Overall, the stories in this collection are quite varied, and make up a great introduction to the fictional worlds of one of Brazil’s greatest writers.

24 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you may have noticed, this has been a pretty slow week . . . We’re taking off for the holidays, but will be back next week with more profiles of the 25 books on the Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, and a write-up about the sixth Open Letter spring 2009 title, Merce Rodoreda’s Death in Spring. (Which is AMAZING.)

This weekend, I’ll be at the MLA Convention in San Francisco—if anyone reading this is going to be there as well, please e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu, and I can give you info about the University of Rochester/Open Letter reception taking place on Monday the 29th. I’ll have copies of our new spring catalog . . .

And speaking of catalogs, we recently updated the Open Letter website. It’s a bit of a redesign (especially the opening page and the catalog) and now includes info about all of our spring titles.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and we’ll be back up to full speed after the first of the year.

4 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

From Literary License’s 12 Days of Books:

An Open Letter subscription is the perfect gift. It’s cheap (just $65 for half a year and $120 for the full year), and the books are intelligently chosen and beautifully designed. Your giftee will thank you throughout the year as the books get delivered month after month, and you can feel good about supporting the cultural and intellectual vitality of our planet.

I’m an Open Letter subscriber, and I’ve been very pleased with the Open Letter books I’ve received this fall. See my reviews of Nobody’s Home by Dubravka Ugresic (4/5) and The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca (4.5/5).

28 November 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’ve heard that today is a big shopping day (or used to be at least, pre-everyone losing all their money and jobs), so to get in on the action I thought I’d point out the “First Annual Secret Santa Gift Exchange” that is orchestrating:

Here’s how it works:

1) If you want to participate, email your name and mailing address to htmlgiant@gmail.com with the subject line: SECRET SANTA. The due date for this is Midnight on Friday, December 5th.

2) As soon as possible, we email you the name and address of your assigned gift recipient.

3) We assign your name and address to another Secret Santa.

4) By Christmas, you purchase for your gift recipient a wonderful gift and email us to let us know what you got him or her.

5) You simultaneously enjoy the gift that you receive from your own Secret Santa.

I wonder how many people will sign up for this. It sounds somewhat intriguing, and I’m all for people buying books as presents . . . In fact, I think the perfect Secret Santa Gift would be an Open Letter book . . .

(Thanks to Literary License for bringing this to our attention.)

31 October 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Joe Wikert writes about the recent push at Thomas Nelson to engage with book bloggers.

I’m not sure how revolutionary it is to offer writers/bloggers a copy of a book if they will review/write about it (we call these review copies), but, you know, good job Thomas Nelson, this “free book” strategy got approx. 200 online reviews of The Faith of Barack Obama. Now, they have their sites set on a much grander scale—a Book Review Blogger program featuring 10,000 bloggers.

You can sign up here to participate:

Join Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers today! Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on any consumer retail website.

(What do you think happens if you agree and then don’t read the book? Are you banned for life? Do you lose your blogging privileges?)

The real kicker is the book they’re launching along with this program: Lynne Spears’s Through the Storm about raising Britney and Jaime Lynn. Wow. Sign me up.

If you’re a blogger and would like something a bit more literary to read/write about, e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu and I’ll send you whichever Open Letter title you’d like.

9 October 08 | N. J. Furl | Comments

I’ll tell ya, it seems like forever since we posted a video of Chad. Luckily, Publishers Weekly has just published a lovely article-slash-interview with our director. It’s all about things like Open Letter, the books we publish, our websites (such as this one), and literature in translation. Also, there is an accompanying web video.

I especially enjoyed the article’s title: “The International Literature Evangelist.” Not only does Chad spread the good news (of sorts), but it seems like only yesterday that we were philistines.

24 September 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Reading a translation when it first comes in is always a fascinating, exciting experience. Frequently we acquire books based on a sample translation, a reader’s report, and conversations/recommendations from trusted readers and translators. Although this system—for all its baroque qualities—works quite well, you never know exactly what it is you’re getting until the book actually arrives. Thankfully, in many cases, you receive wonderful surprises, like what we got when Michele Hutchison delivered her translation of Rupert, A Confession by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer.

A Dutch writer, Rupert is Pfeijffer’s first novel. It was published in 2002 and won the Anton Wachter prize for a debut novel. As noted on his website, Pfeijffer is the only Dutch author to have won major debut prizes for both poetry and prose.

As referred to in the title, this book is a confession by Rupert about a crime he’s committed. In explaining his crime and the surrounding circumstances, he rambles, he entertains, he cloaks his vileness in humor. It’s a strange and captivating book, one in which you’re pulled in by Rupert’s wit, yet occasionally get a glimpse of how fucked up his mind is, and it’s sections like this one that made us decide to publish this novel next June:

The most important thing really is that the true insult shows creativity and is not a random collection of the tried and tested excrement and sexual organs. And just as the best style is quotable, the best insult has an aphoristic quality that does not just insult the victim but also, as an ultimate humiliation, renders him superfluous, so that the brio of the formulation of the insult outlasts the name of the victim. The renowned critic, Woulter Parr, was a master in this. The last paragraph of his review of one of K. Horvath’s plays engraved itself in my memory after a single reading: “This is no play to be lightly shoved aside, but one that deserves to be thrown with great force. The stage set was lovely but the actors kept standing in front of it. It was a performance in which all of the actors clearly and intelligibly articulated their lines, alas. Kitty Becker, in the lead, exploited the whole range of emotions from A to B. One would have to have a heart of stone not to watch her suicide at the end of the play without bursting out laughing. I never forget a face but in the case of Kitty Becker I’m happy to make an exception. Giving Hands is the type of play that gives failure a bad name. The only original idea about art ever to come from Ms Horvath’s pen had to do with her superiority as a writer in relation to writers greater than she. First God created the idiots. That was just practice – afterward he created Ms Horvath. It was an act of mercy that God allowed Mr Habold Sicx and Ms Horvath to marry thus making two people unhappy instead of four.” You don’t need to see the explanatory hand gestures or Ms. Horvath to be fully convinced by this.

Everything is always easier on paper, that is true – and I realize that now with every gasp of my confession as I stand here before you without the aid of the written word – but the ad hoc insult without an audience, man to man in the street, ought to respect the same principles. One often assumes one should be able to get straight to the point for that, and that’s a talent you either have or you don’t. This is only partly true. To insult without any thinking time is an art, and up to a certain point, one can learn any art. It’s the same with the lethal martial arts I have become familiar with. A person who isn’t intimidated by one’s opponent’s display, and who regards every lunge as a weakening of the opponent’s defense, won’t have difficulty finding chinks in his armor. And as long as you operate with confidence in your refinement and superiority, the most creative counter attacks will occur to you just like that. He who, in an unguarded moment, finds himself in a risky situation and cannot come up with a reply, can rely on three simple heuristic principles. The first guideline is the principle of contamination. One can say: “Jazz is music for imbeciles.” One can also say: “Jazz is torture.” But it is better to say: “Jazz was invented as torture for imbeciles.” The second hold is the principle of inversion. Destroy your enemy by turning what he says around, or compliment him on his weaknesses and present your criticism as a compliment; the way Baudelaire said of Wagner: “I like Wagner, but I prefer the music that a cat makes when it is being hung by its tail from the window and is clinging to the sill with its claws.” Another fine example is the compliment Will Rogers gave to the German people: “I must say one thing in favor of the Germans: they are always willing to give other people’s land away.” The so-called better than-inversion is extremely fruitful. People tend to saying things like, “it tastes better than it looks” or “he is smarter than he appears,” even without malicious intent. The reversal of both poles of comparison can produce very pleasing insults, like Mark Twain’s about Wagner: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” The third principle is usually defined as an aprosdoketon and relates to the unexpected shift, to the sting in the tail. “Wagner’s music has its beautiful moments,” Rossini said, “and its awful half hours.” An even subtler example is offered in Clifton Fadiman’s characterization of German nature: “The German spirit has the talent to make no mistakes except for the very largest.” These three principles should offer enough support that you’ll never be faced with a lack of inspiration and they’ll enable the production of an appropriate and civilized insult at any time.

14 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

The August Open Letter Newsletter is now available and was just mailed out to all subscribers.

Aside from hoping you’re interested in reading this, I’m also mentioning it here because we ran into some problems getting out subscribers registered with Google Groups. (Google decided that we were “suspicious” and might be spamming the few hundred people who had signed up to receive this at various events. I even wrote them an explanation and told them about how we’re huge Google supporters—we use checkout, analytics, and even helped get the University of Rochester to use Gmail accounts for all students—but my request was denied. Thanks, Google!)

Anyway, if you signed up but didn’t receive an e-mail—or if you simply want to join our mailing list—please re-register by visiting our home page and entering your e-mail in the box on the top right. That will eliminate any Google problems/suspicions. . . .

11 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Things have been a bit slow around here the past few weeks, but now that I’m back in the office for the rest of the month (I think), things should pick up.

We have a couple of reviews coming up in the next week or so—Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories and I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou—and more interviews with booksellers.

There is some Open Letter news that I’d like to pass along though. As most of you know, Dubravka Ugresic’s Nobody’s Home — our first book — arrived last week.

Copies are being mailed out to subscribers today (subscriptions to the “fall season” are only $65 plus shipping and can be found here), and will be arriving in better bookstores—and online retailers—everywhere in early-September.

To celebrate this first release, we’re offering a special discount on Nobody’s Home through our website. From now until the end of the month you can order it directly through our website for only $11.95. (30% off the cover price.)

For all LibraryThing members, 10 copies are available through the Early Reviewers program. All you have to do is “request a copy” through the Early Reviewers page and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy. Registration closes on August 17th, so you’ll have to sign up soon.

28 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Lately, I’ve been dying of anticipation for the first finished copies of our first book to arrive (We’re a publisher, too, you know). It’s taken a long time for what was conceptual to begin accumulating the myriad aspects of the actual, but we have our almost final evidence that we’re really publishing books: the cover proofs. So, here you go, a blurry cell phone image of the 300 (yes, 300) cover proofs that showed up in the spacious, modern offices of Open Letter this very morning:

Any day now we should have a few copies of the finished books on hand. Drinks will be drunk.

26 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Yesterday, over at Booksquare there was an interesting post on “Why Publishers Should Blog,” that generated a bit of discussion:

Just as authors need to better market themselves and their books, so do publishers. While the audience for a publisher website is diverse — authors, booksellers, journalists, agents, readers, and more — talking about books on your website the same way you talk about books in your catalog simply isn’t cutting it. In printed material, you have various constraints. On the web, you have the ability to do something special: tell the world what excites you, the publisher, about a particular book.

Kassia then went on to point out some glaring faults of commercial publisher websites—which really is a fish, gun, smoking barrel situation. But she’s got a point. Publishers are light years behind in terms of web promotion, although indie presses, like Soft Skull, like McSweeneys, are much more personality driven, and it shows in the legion of fans who read and talk about their publications.

So, anyway, since we have this blog (which I hope gives readers some sense of the Open Letter “personality” so to speak, although our mission for this site goes well beyond promoting Open Letter books), I’d like to tell everyone about how excited I was to see Bragi Olafsson’s The Pets included in Josh Glenn’s Summer Reading List at the Boston Globe’s Braniac blog:

Open Letter, which, as I’ve mentioned, is a new literary imprint (housed at the University of Rochester) dedicated to publishing translations, is bringing out a 2001 novel of “cowardice, comeuppance, and assumed identity” by the former bassist for The Sugarcubes (Björk’s band). Ólafsson’s most recent novel, The Ambassadors, received rhe Icelandic Bookseller’s Award as best novel of the year, so he’s no flash in the pan. In fact, although the prose looks breezy and fun, he’s something of an Oulipian: For most of the novel, Emil — the protagonist — is trapped under his own bed.

(As a sidenote, I’m a big Josh Glenn fan—especially of his Generational Theory, which has lead to many a heated discussion at my house.)

This is a fantastic book, and as the first work of fiction we’re publishing, it’s a great representation of the type of books we’re into—fun, enjoyable, innovative in ideas and style . . . This even comes through in his interview:

After an English friend of mine told me of a rather unfortunate incident he had with a guinea-pig, cement and a water-hose, I wanted to write a story about a person who is assigned to take care of a few pet animals.

And I’m really pleased that Bragi will be touring the U.S. this October, appearing at Book Culture with Mark Binelli and at McNally Robinson with Dubravka Ugresic. (More on both of these events in the near future.)

I wish that I could give away copies of this book to everyone I know—and I wish we were publishing it now, since it would make a great beach book. (Though to be honest, I never go to the beach, and I’m not entirely sure what this “beach book” category is. But to me, reading an Icelandic book in the summer heat is deliciously ironic.)

Some of you may be aware of our other website—the official Open Letter books site. In addition to information about our titles, there’s also a page with OL merchandise, and more relevant to this post, a way to subscribe to our books. For $65 you can get the first six titles; for $120 you can get the first twelve, with a title arriving each month. With the majority of the titles being published in paper-over-board format, this is a really good deal . . . Although we have yet to advertise this, a number of people have already signed up, which makes me think that this type of subscription service is something people will be interested in . . .

14 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

In some ways it’s a bit early to be posting our fall catalog (especially since the launch of the official Open Letter website is a few weeks off), but I recently got a number of requests for information about our first six titles, so I thought it would be easiest just to post a pdf version.

Click here for the complete catalog, which contains the following titles:

  • Nobody’s Home by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac;
  • The Pets by Bragi Olafsson, translated from the Icelandic by Janice Balfour;
  • The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers;
  • The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad, translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland;
  • Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis, translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas;
  • The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Barbara Bray.

And if you’re really interested, a pdf of all six covers is also available.

30 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is a pretty loaded post, but this morning the new issue of UR’s Currents was released (which explains the above picture) and includes a long overview on Open Letter, including descriptions of our inaugural list of titles.

The books don’t come out until Fall 2008 (the first will have a September 26th pub date), but here they are:

  • Nobody’s Home by Dubravka Ugresic
  • The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca
  • The Pets by Bragi Olafsson
  • Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis
  • The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad
  • The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras

Part of the reason for this article is to promote the upcoming event Commerce and Culture: The Impact of the Business of Books on the Literature of the Americas, which is part of UR’s Humanities Project.

With such a great list of panelist—Lisa Dillman (translator), Daniel Shapiro (Director of Literature at the Americas Society), Jack Kirchhoff (Book Review Editor at the Toronto Globe and Mail), and Jonathan Welch (co-founder and buyer at Talking Leaves should be an interesting conversation. And we will be able to record this and post it next week.

23 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

The official news release about the launch of Open Letter—the new translation-focused publishing house at the University of Rochester, and overseer of this website—and Three Percent can be found here.

More information about Open Letter’s books, plans, etc., will be forthcoming over the next few months. And an official Open Letter website complete with full catalog, interviews, news, and a shopping cart feature will be up and running in early-October.

....
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