30 September 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the third entry in a series that will eventually feature all of the titles Open Letter has published to date. Catch up on past entries by clicking here. Last week’s entry was a pretty solid Chad rant involving the incredible Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin. Definitely check that one out. By contrast, this week’s post is rainbows and bunnies.



One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

Original Language: Danish, which has 5.5 million native speakers (according to Wikipedia)

Year of Original Publication: 2012, with our English edition coming out this past June.

Awards Received: One of Us Is Sleeping was an official best-seller in Denmark (making our edition an “International Bestseller,” I believe), weas shortlisted for the Readers’ Book Award (Læsernes Bogpris), and was a finalist for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. This was the second time she was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize (she was also a finalist for Rise and Fall in 2011), which made her the youngest author ever to accomplish this feat.

Let’s put that in context for a second: By the age of 30, Josefine had published four collections, two of which were finalists for a prize awarding the best book from five countries (Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark). Too bad she wasn’t eligible for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, because daaaammmnnn.

Notable Praise: The quote that we use on the cover of our book—like most anyone would—is “Scandinavia now has its own Virginia Woolf.” But just scroll down this page to see all the great blurbs that this book has received.

Americans—including most chain “booksellers” and probably even our distributor—would look at this and dismiss them because they’re “not from U.S. or UK publications.” Which is so utterly stupid when you think about it. I’ve heard that refrain my whole career, and every time I can’t help but think that reviews from foreign publications are oftentimes more intelligent and trustworthy since these reviewers read both their own country’s books and the big American novels. A Danish critic knows about J-Franz and Colson Whitehead and Josefine Klougart. Not to mention, they also have access to so many more international works than we do, simply by living in Europe where more titles are translated and where the people speak more languages. But because we can’t pronounce the name of the publication, we assume it’s some hand-printed broadsheet or a blog or something. We are so weirdly close minded.

Other Comparisons: The ones that have come up the most are: Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, and Joan Didion. I like Josefine’s response to all these, in which she basically just shrugged it off. Everyone needs comparisons—our minds are great at understanding connections and things in relation to one another, but quite crap at evaluating things on their own, in isolation—and it’s the job of marketers to supply them. It’s why I usually include those cheeky “X Meets Y” bits in these write-ups. It’s so silly, and yet . . . In the way that it uses touchstone images and a circular, poetic structure, One of Us Is Sleeping most reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I assume people still read The Waves. It really is the best Woolf.

A Word about the Translator: All of our translators are great translators, but holy mother has Martin translated a lot of key Danish authors. He doesn’t seem to have his own website, or a Wikipedia page, or anywhere really detailing what he’s done, except maybe this GoodReads profile. Jussi Adler-Olsen, Peter Høeg, Kim Leine, Helle Helle, Dorthe Nors, Pia Juul, and part of the final volume of My Struggle are just some of the highlights from his career. There are other great Danish translators—Kyle Semmel, Kerri Pierce, and Susanne Nied all come to mind—but given his output, the quality of his work, and the authors he’s doing, Martin is right there as one of the greatest translators of our time.

How Tall Is Josefine? I’m very short. Like not quite vertically challenged short, but you’d be hard pressed to find a grown male shorter than I am. So I like to exaggerate other people’s height, especially when they are legitimately tall. The first time I met Josefine, I felt like she had to kneel down to be able to hear what I was saying. Which led to my telling people she was like 6’6” or so. After Will Evans of Deep Vellum met her, he sent me a message about how she was the most wonderful eight-foot-tall author in the world.

I believe she is 6’1”. Which is pretty tall. Here’s a picture of her next to Susan Harris of Words Without Borders (who is a bit shorter than I am and interviewed Josefine in Chicago).



According to Susan, “Yes, I am wearing three-inch platforms, and Josefine is in flats. Hard to believe we’re the same species.”

Other Books in English: Up next for Josefine is :Of Darkness, which is forthcoming from Deep Vellum!

What’s Next: In November, Josefine’s new novel comes out in Denmark. I don’t remember the title at this second . . . I do know that it was supposed to come out last year, but she started revising and adding things and suddenly there were 200 new pages, bringing the total book to 700 pages. Given our string of 700 page books (Gesell Dome, Invented Part, etc.), I think this is destined to be an Open Letter title.

Danish Women Writers Series: One of Us Is Sleeping is the second book in Open Letter’s Danish Women Writers Series, preceded by Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, and followed by Justine by Iben Mondrup (November 2016), The Eternal Summer by Madame Nielsen, and The Easy and the Lonely by Asta Olivia.

This series grew out of a trip to Copenhagen in 2013 and a generous grant from the Danish Arts Foundation. Initially the grant was simply to do five books from Danish, but given that all the books we gravitated toward were written by women, and given the fact that so few books by women are translated into English, we thought we’d make this exclusively a series to promote Danish women writers. It’s an amazing list of five books that covers a range of genres and styles (from Aidt’s more thriller-esque novel to Olivia’s poetry) and is an attempt to bring more attention to writing by international women.

Of course, these books haven’t been as well reviewed as they should be (my opinion), and I’m scared to compare the amount of attention they’ve received against the books we’ve published by men around the same time. Someone should write a feature or blog post about this series though. Occasionally you see pieces like this—like about Dalkey’s Library of Korean Literature . . . Perhaps we should’ve published all five at once in similarly bland covers? That’s a joke, but there is a gimmick element necessary to get attention. Doing interesting publishing projects like this in a straightforward, meaningful way isn’t going to get you written up in the New Yorker. Seriously though: If you’re interested in reading more women, supporting women’s lit in translation, or just finding some great Scandinavian books, give this series a look.

A Rochester Shout-Out: I have to mention that when Josefine was here, she was on WXXI Connections with Evan Dawson, which was one of the first radio programs (I think she said “the first,” but I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt) she ever appeared on in which the host had actually read the complete book. And thought about it. And marked passages to read aloud during the program. It’s nice to share some kind words about our town.

Jacket Copy: Not the easiest book to describe, given how imagistic and non-linear it is. But here’s what we went with:

The English-language debut from one of Denmark’s most exciting, celebrated young writers, One of Us Is Sleeping is a haunting novel about loss in all its forms.

As she returns home to visit her mother who is dying of cancer, the narrator recounts a brief, intense love affair, as well as the grief and disillusionment that follow its end. The book’s striking imagery and magnificent prose underpin its principal theme: the jarring contrast between the recollection of stability—your parents, your childhood home, your love—and the continual endings that we experience throughout our lives.

A true-to-life, deeply poetic novel that works in the same vein as Anne Carson, One of Us Is Sleeping has won Klougart countless accolades and award nominations—including the Readers’ Book Award—securing her place as a major new voice in world literature.

And here’s Josefine’s statement from her website:

One of Us is Sleeping is a novel about leaving and being left behind; a story about the unfolding of a relationship that insists on the necessity of sorrow. It is a novel about loss, homelessness, and light.

Audience: Do you like to feel? Do you like sadness? Do you like to experience emotional loss? Then this book is for you!

To be serious, this is one of the most emotionally charged—and pretty depressing—books we’ve ever published. It’s intense and gorgeous and loaded with feelings.

When Is It Best to Read: The Winter.

Sample Paragraph:

It’s strange, he lies, I never miss you when you’re not here. I get so scared I might forget you, he tells her. He has talked her into meeting. I’m beginning to forget you, he says. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, malicious voices tell her, only these are her own thoughts, they carry her signature. And presumably it is what he wants, or what a person dreams about at night; dreams about during the day, not wishing it upon one’s worst enemy. They walk there together, in the park by the National Gallery. It is summer adn they are constantly on the run from someone. Both of them seeing someone else now, and one of them always wanting to try again. But only one.

Longer Excerpt: Check out the excerpt from our catalog.

Personal Pitch: I don’t have the time (or health to be honest, I’ve got a cold and I’m fading) to do a full-blown pitch like last week, but there are a few things that I want to say.

First off, I really don’t intend to highlight all our new books in this series as they come out. But with Josefine on tour, I wanted to bring a little extra attention to this book. It was absolutely incredible to hang out with her and her editor Jakob Sandvad here in Rochester. Their publishing company, Gladiator, was featured in the Danish Literary Magazine last fall, and presents an interesting way of conceiving of a publishing house. A lot of their focus is on involving authors in the whole process, including having them recommend authors for translation into Danish, and sometimes even doing the translation. When they were here, we spent a lot of time talking about how to reach readers, how to make events more exciting, how to make literary conversations more rich and fulfilling. It’s a breath of fresh air to talk to engaged literary people like this.

Also, I beat them badly at basketball. Well, this basketball:



Secondly, One of Us Is Sleeping is definitely the sort of book I was thinking of in last week’s post about wanting to reread particular novels. Although in this case, I think of it more as having to “read slow.” There’s no way to rush through this book. If you do, you’ll be completely lost and unaware of the recurring images and the ways in which the story could be restructured into something much more linear. English classes exist—at least in some regard—to train students how to read slow and read critically, skills that are very beneficial when it comes to serious literature like this. There should be some sort of “slow read” movement to go along with all the “slow eating” and “slow” everything movements that exist right now.

Finally, when Josefine was on the aforementioned radio show last week, she explained how she wrote this novel. Paraphrasing here, but basically, she kept a single Word document open on her computer for a year and wrote a page a day. After that, she went back and started looking through it for recurring images. And then built the book around that, retaining its nonlinear nature, since that’s really how our lives work. As she said, at any moment in time, our consciousness is living in the now, in the past, and in the future—almost simultaneously. One of Us Is Sleeping captures that feeling in beautiful, soul-crushing prose. And once you know the way it came together, it makes even more sense. Especially if you read it slowly!

Buy It: Of course you should buy it from us, but if you happen to be in the Bay Area next Tuesday (October 4th), you can catch her at Green Apple on the Park. Also, I know she signed copies at a number of New York area bookstores, and in Houston, Chicago, Dallas, and Portland. Go get one!

23 September 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the second entry in a series that will eventually feature all of the titles Open Letter has published to date. Catch up on past entries by clicking here. Last week’s entry was about Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno.



Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz

Original Language: Russian

Author’s Home Country: Shishkin was born in Russia, but moved to Switzerland in 1995. After taking several shits on Putin’s Russia (here and here and I think there are others), it’s probably for the best that he’s living with the bankers.

Original Date of Publication: 2005 (Russian); 2012 (English)

Second Printing: Yes—this is one of a handful of Open Letter titles to go have gone into a second printing. (I wonder if anyone can guess the others. Not all of them are our best-selling titles, but it’s a pretty solid list of books.) It’s somehow very gratifying to open up one of our books and see “Second Printing, 2013” on the copyright page. Which is why I mention it.

Awards Won: Shishkin won three international awards for Maidenhair: the Big Book Award and National Best-Seller Prize in Russia, and the German translation won the International Literature Award. In terms of prizes for the English translations, well, as you can see in the image above, Maidenhair was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award . . . AND WAS ROBBED. Actually, it was up against Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, which is fine, OK. Although I still believe Shishkin deserved it, especially given that Krasznahorkai won the following year as well, and New Directions has won like 85% of the BTBA awards to date. (That is just an estimate.)

But beyond not winning the BTBA, there was a moment, in 2013, when Shishkin’s name was being bantered around as a possible Nobel Prize recipient. That would’ve changed Open Letter’s fortunes FOREVER, and possibly turned me into a happy person. Seeing that that obviously hasn’t happened—it’s all depressive episodes alternating with rage over here—it’s clear that he didn’t win. Currently, he’s not even listed over at Ladbrokes, so fuck us. And fuck happy.

Other Books in English: What that possible-Nobel-contender buzz did do is encourage Shishkin’s agent—well, one of them, since he jumped around quite a bit—to sell The Light and the Dark to Quercus.

Interlude. Whoa. WHOA. Before I go on whinging about this or that publishing thing, let’s take a second to consider this cover:



That is HORRIBLE. Like, bad romance novel that’s available for a dime at a library sale, or worse, rotting away in a dank little free library sort of bad. What is it with bigger presses taking our authors and then saddling them with really awkward, tone deaf covers? For example, the new Mathias Enard:



It’s almost like it’s supposed to be the cover of one of those 70s space porn books, but never quite gets there. Those colors and title treatment are straight out of MS Paint. If I didn’t know the history of this book, I’d assume that it’s self-published. And that the author was obliged to use his brother-in-law’s design. (“Jimmy’s co-workers always ask him to design their event posters. He has a real eye for it!”)

End Interlude.

Ugh. Agents. The part of the Shishkin debacle that was the worst was the agent—and sub agent—pressuring us to sell our UK rights to Maidenhair to Quercus because “they’re a bigger publisher.” Not once did Quercus make an offer that we could accept or reject, instead we were told repeatedly that we “must do this for the benefit of Quercus . . . and the book.” That’s exactly how shitty agents work: they show you no respect, treat you as a cog in their machine, and can’t ever figure out what’s going on when you don’t see things their way. The handful of good, honest agents—there are a couple, I swear—are so refreshing to work with. The rest are just ambulance-chasing lawyers with literary aspirations. (And this is why we don’t get any good books on submission.) (And is also why there should be a caveat at the top of this post stating that the opinions are solely those of Chad, who is mostly trying to be funny. He actually loves everyone and meditates every day. His blood pressure is within the normal range, and if only you could see the smile on his face when you mention the French Publishers Agency . . .)

Anyway, you can read The Light and the Dark, which most people consider to be not as good as Maidenhair, or you can read Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories, or you can just read Maidenhair, which is one of the best books published this century.

Jacket Copy: Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timeless­ness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys.

An X Meets Y Comparison: Books like this can’t be put in boxes. The three storyline structure isn’t the most revolutionary thing ever, but the ways in which it twists and winds around itself, with the stability of reality (within the confines of the novel) shifting time and again elevates this into something sui generis. In a pinch, I’d say it’s like Tolstoy mixed with Joyce and a touch of Gogol. So, exactly what fans of Stranger Things are clamoring for.

Other Notes about the Author: He has beautiful, piercing eyes.



A Really Good, Lengthy Blurb: From James Meek in the London Review of Books:

The narrative habit of hopping back and forwards in time, so common in modern novels, is a superficial challenge to chronology. It’s unusual to come across a novel that is neither contingent nor consecutive. Even great monuments of modernist prose, like Ulysses, depend to some degree on the notion of consecutive chronology. To find narrative comparators to Maidenhair, the first novel by Mikhail Shishkin to be translated into English, you have to reach for outliers like Tristram Shandy or Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl, where time and contingency have been disassembled. While the texture of Maidenhair is quite different from either, it resembles them in that it stretches the definition of “novel.” The enveloping structure of Shishkin’s work is not so much a story as a prose portfolio, an exhibition you walk through in a particular order because that’s the way the pages are put together, as you might walk clockwise round a gallery.

It sounds forbidding and obscure, but Maidenhair, first published in 2005, was a publishing hit in Russia, where it won two literary prizes, and in Germany. One explanation for this may be that the reading public has a greater appetite for experimental fiction than the cynics believe. Another may be the nature of Shishkin’s experiment, which relates to the enclosure, rather than to the entirety of its contents. Difficult as some passages are, there are long sections embedded within the book that are conventionally dramatic, even romantic, involving the quest for love embodied as grail, elixir, end.

Sample Paragraphs:

One evening after dinner I act all the parts in the fable I learned at school, “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” not doubting that everyone is going to applaud me, thrilled over my acting talents, the moment I point a moralizing finger up and say, “Now go dance your dance!” But Aunt Olya jumps up without waiting for the end, interrupting me, and exclaims, “This is all wrong! Wrong, Bellochka!” Aunt Olya explains to me the right way to understand the fable’s meaning. “The grasshopper is cheerful and sweet and lived the way one should both being good and relying on the kindness of others! She served beauty, do you see? But the ant is a scoundrel and greedy, like all the rich, a vulgar petty bourgeois!”

Longer Sample: Apparently when we updated our website, the old samples didn’t get pulled over . . . So there’s nothing to link to except for the excerpt that appeared in N+1. Unfortunately, if you’re not a subscriber, you can’t access this. So subscribe. Actually, no, fuck that. Buy the book and get a 506-page excerpt.

Personal Pitch: When we first published this book, I had two go to reasons for why I thought it was incredible: One was that Marian Schwartz—one of the best translators ever—didn’t fully get it. Over lunch once she told me about translating a section toward the end that was completely baffling until she realized it was a series of palindromes. Palindromes! I love books that keep the reader on their toes.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. That’s not all that unusual for me, but it’s probably heightened by my upcoming birthday. (I’m going to turn 41. Never turn 41.) Mostly I’ve been thinking about the number of books I have left to read in my life. Let’s pretend that technological advances and my recent trend of healthy living (I lost 23 pounds since May and am svelte for the first time in ever) allows me to get to 80. Before my mind shits out on me. (Which is asking a lot, I know.) If I read one book a week and take a couple weeks off to be with other human beings (like my kids) every year, that gives me almost 2,000 books left to read in my lifetime. Which is a pretty solid number, but one that gets smaller every year. And my “to read” bookshelf already contains at least 400 titles.

When I think about this though, my first instinct is to try and maximize which books I read. Which, I know, is dumb. Whatever the afterlife entails, I’m pretty sure it’s not better or worse based on whether you read Bottom’s Dream or not. But if I have 40 years left to think and experience literature, I want to make it count. One approach would be to read all new books in hopes of being part of some ongoing conversation. Or simply to read books that are just supposed to be entertaining. Filled with spies, murders, and sex. Beach books.

Or, I could go in the opposite direction—the professorial direction. Read the same twenty books—all agreed upon classics—over and again, and burn up 500 of the 2,000 books I have left keeping up with monographs on these Great Books.

Described like that, the rereading option sounds smug and awful. But there is something appealing—to me, at least—about finding a book or author that you need to reread every so often. I’m pretty sure all serious readers have these books/authors who they consider to be foundational to their life, and who they revisit every so often. I want to pretend that I actually live this way. That I go back to The Crying of Lot 49 or Julio Cortázar or Absalom, Absalom! or Ulysses every so often, but that’s a utter lie. I wish I did. Instead, I feel like I have to keep up with things—the books we’re publishing, the ones we’re thinking about publishing, the catalogs of my favorite presses, etc. Even now, thinking about rereading 62: A Model Kit (which I’ve been meaning to do for years so that I can then get some sort of related tattoo) feels like it would take away from reading something else that I should be reading. What’s sadder is that this compulsion to read certain new books is mostly driven by the hope of being able to interact with the cool literary kids on the Twitter. Fuck me, fuck my brain.

For the class that I’m teaching this spring—which I’ll talk about in more detail in a separate post—I’ve decided to teach mostly books that I don’t understand. Books that more or less require a second reading. Books like Maidenhair. Books that you can understand in the moment, but that necessitate a second reading—one in which you start out much more informed about the overall scope or structure. At this moment in my life, there’s something really compelling about reading books that beg me to reread them. Books that aren’t direct and obvious and meant to be immediately grasped. That excites me. Books that don’t conform to expectations or pre-determined ideas. Books like Maidenhair.

(That’s not to dismiss books—or movies, or TV shows, or comics—that are solely entertaining. Those things are totally cool as well, and definitely have a place in my life.)

Instead of constantly rushing forward, trying to get the next thing, enjoy the newest book, share the coolest new tweet before everyone else, I’d like to let some ideas develop in my mind over multiple readings or viewings. One reason translators can be so fun to talk with is because they’re one of a handful of people who read a particular book more than once. There aren’t that many serious readers left in the world with enough time to read, reread, digest, and think about particular books. At the same time, there aren’t that many books that really need to be reread and digested in that way . . .

Maidenhair IS one of those books though. Reading this once is basically just preparation. It demands something more. And even though it’s not the current trend to publish or support books that aren’t obvious and immediate, this is exactly why I got into publishing. To bring out books that you have to struggle with. In 100 years when I’m dead and forgotten, hopefully some college kid will come across Maidenhair and will have their mind changed through the struggle to really “get” it.

So buy it for that reason. And read it twice.

The second reason I used to cite for why this book is so good is the thread of the journals of the young opera singer and how the whole book is questioning how to preserve her innocence and unmitigated joy about being alive while being surrounded by the horror that is the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. That’s a great goal for living, and something that hits deep inside every time I look at my kids. How can you keep that happiness alive?

Buy it: Obviously, you can get this from your local bookshop or online retailer, but you can also buy it directly from us by clicking here. Or you can always subscribe to Open Letter—the best way to receive some of the most varied and interesting voices of international literature, delivered right to your door each and every month.

14 September 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is a new, hopefully weekly, feature highlighting a different book from our catalog in each post. Even though this book is pretty recent (official pub date just a few weeks ago August), I plan on going deep into our backlist in the near future.



Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

Original Language: Spanish

Author’s Home Country: Argentina

Original Date of Publication: 2013

Awards Won: The 2013 Dashiell Hammett Award! (There are multiple Hammett awards. This is the one for works written in Spanish in comparision to the one for English. In 2013, Angel Baby by Richard Lange won the English version of the prize.) It’s worth noting that this is the second time Saccomanno won the Hammett Award. He also won in 2008 for a novel called 77.

Also, Andrea Labinger won a PEN Heim Award for her translation.

Other Interesting Biographical Details: Saccomanno lives in Villa Gesell, the resort town where the novel is set. Additionally, before becoming a literary writer, he wrote comic books. Some of these appear to be ongoing (at least according to what I’m gleaning from his Spanish Wikipedia entry) including Leopoldo.



Description of the Book: Like True Detective through the lenses of William Faulkner and John Dos Passos, Gesell Dome is a mosaic of misery, a page-turner that will keep you enthralled until its shocking conclusion.

This incisive, unflinching exposé of the inequities of contemporary life weaves its way through dozens of sordid storylines and characters, including an elementary school abuse scandal, a dark Nazi past, corrupt politicians, and shady real-estate moguls. An exquisitely crafted novel by Argentina’s foremost noir writer, Gesell Dome reveals the seedy underbelly of a popular resort town tensely awaiting the return of tourist season.

A Non-Jacket Copy Description: This is about Villa Gesell, a small resort town run by four corrupt assholes, and filled with violence, adultery, drug deals, and tons of other crimes that no one ever attempts to solve or rectify in any way whatsoever.

Praise from Famous People: We’re not the best at getting blurbs, but I did tell Ed Brubaker (who wrote an episode of HBO’s Westworld, which looks totally sick) about this book at BEA and he said something to the effect of “fuck yeah, I’d love to read that.” Which counts.

Praise from Booksellers: ““The first two pages of Gesell Dome, the first novel from Argentine author Guillermo Saccomanno to be translated into English, are enough to seduce any reader and a testament to the vitality of international fiction. Dark, daring and epic in scope, Gesell Dome is a damning verdict of contemporary life and human nature. The novel reveals the corrupt underbelly of a resort town when the tourists leave. Abounding with shady characters, all seemingly competing for worst resident on earth, Gesell Dome becomes a chorus of corruption and greed, of savagery and ruthlessness. It’s both vicious and unforgettable. Think Louis-Ferdinand Céline on vacation in South America.”—Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore

Audience: This book will appeal to anyone who likes neo-noir novels, books that are violent, or portraits of small, corrupt towns. That’s not to say it isn’t literary—the mosaic-like form that it employs allows Saccomanno to create fascinating juxtapositions, to paint a picture of a uncontrollably violent world, and to introduce hundreds of compelling characters.

Another “X Meets Y” Formulation: Like CSI meets Julio Cortázar. Or like “The Part about the Crimes” from 2666 as told in a tabloid.

Publicity: Well, the book just came out, so there haven’t been a ton of reviews yet. (But hopefully there will be in the near future.) That said, Saccomanno was profiled in Publishers Weekly as one of the fall Writers to Watch

Saccomanno, who has been living in Villa Gesell for most of the past 30 years, began work on the book in 2005. While writing he had the sense, he says, “that the town itself was dictating the story to me.” He adds, “Tolstoy supposedly said, ‘Describe your village and you will be universal.’ That idea was the driving force behind this novel. Violence, addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse, blackmail, corruption, the lives that unfold in this atmosphere, all called out to me.”

PW also gave it a starred review, stating:

Never was there a cityscape as immersive, or a populace as rife with iniquity, as in Argentinian writer Saccomanno’s noirish Gesell Dome, his first novel to be translated into English. [. . .] Like Twin Peaks reimagined by Roberto Bolaño, Gesell Dome is a teeming microcosm in which voices combine into a rich, engrossing symphony of human depravity.

Sample Paragraphs:

If you’re a local and your parents come for the long weekend, you’ll have to put up with your wife’s constipated expression. And if your in-laws come, try to keep your plastic smile from becoming facial paralysis. Because, tell me, who can put up with their parents or in-laws in the house for three days straight. And let’s not even talk about your sister-in-law and her boyfriend. And you know there’s a kind of vibe between you and that little slut. So you’ve gotta proceed with extreme caution. Then there are the kids. If they’re not glued to the TV all day long, you’ve got them on top of you, bitching that they’re bored. Forget about a quickie with your wife. After lunch, when you’re logy and feel like taking a nap, along comes the witch, telling you to take the family out for a ride. And you’ve gotta get them all into the car and take them for a spin. Head toward the beach, they ask you. Till they wear you out, and even though you know you could get trapped in the sand, you let them have their way and look for a road down to the beach through the dunes. For a while you feel like it was worth it to indulge them, driving along the shore. That half-adventurous, half-romantic feeling. Until it’s time to turn around and go back, and you realize that the car is starting to get stuck. Everybody out. Get out and push. Hand me a shovel. There’s no shovel, asshole. There’s gotta be one. Take out the mat and put it under the wheels. Help me dig. And the tide coming in. The tide. Call the Auto Club. It’s got no charge, stupid. You forgot to charge the cell phone. I’m cold, Dad. Me too, Dad. Get into the car. I told you, idiot, I told you we’d get stuck on the beach. Now it’s raining buckets.

And the tide. The tide. The tide.

Longer Excerpts: The first long excerpt I posted from the this book—which I did in a fit of excitement when I finished proofing it—is online here.

As part of our catalog, you can also read section from the beginning “here.“http://www.openletterbooks.org/pages/gesell-dome-excerpt

The novel was also excerpted in both Jewish Fiction and Lit Hub.

Personal Pitch: When I first read Andrea’s sample—the one that got her the PEN Heim Award—I was most intrigued by the structure. It’s a bit ADD, jumping from thread to thread, character to character—which is something that appeals to me personally for a few different reasons. This sort of fragmented structure eliminates a lot of the slow build, scene setting crap that I don’t care for in most contemporary fiction. In Gesell Dome, each fragment thrusts you right into a new life or situation. For example, I randomly opened a copy of the book and got this opening line, “Mable, the teller at Banco Provincia, wife of Mario Pertuzzi of Electromar, wasn’t pregnant when she and Daniel became lovers.” That’s all you need about Mabel before launching into her story. No pages of setting, no attempt to create her character through objective signifiers and objects—just a simple statement and you’re off.

Recently, like yesterday, I decided that for the time being, I was only going to read books that I knew I wasn’t going to fully understand on the first go. Thinks like Sokolov’s Between Dog & Wolf, Can Xue’s Frontier (well, reread in that case), or maybe Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. I realized that the only joy I’ve been getting out of books recently (like with Fresan’s The Invented Part, Blas de Robles’s Island of Point Nemo, and Pola Oloixarac’s Savage Theories) is the fun of trying to figure shit out. I’ve written—and lectured—about this a billion times, about the way the brain processes declarative, concrete statements versus what happens when you’re forced to puzzle things out, but for a while, I feel like I lost my way as a reader and was seeking pleasure in the straightforward, in the books that were written to be simply pleasurable. Which is dumb, since the idea of reading the new Foer book doesn’t sound pleasurable at all. It sounds like consuming shit in order to generate new mini-rants. That’s not the way to live.

Gesell Dome isn’t “incomprehensible” like Finnegans Wake, but there is a strain on the reader to, first of all, remember who the fuck all these characters are and how they’re related, but then to also see the overall pattern. This is a book that doesn’t have a single plot, but a multitude, some of which cross, others that run parallel, all of which help create a verbal tapestry depicting a town awash in misery and desperation. And we all know that misery is much more interesting to read about than joy and happiness. Regardless, the reading experience of having to piece things together is so gratifying and fun.

Finally, this is a novel of voices, which is another reason I like to read—to hear distinct ways of saying things. I mean this on a truly ground floor, sentence by sentence, level. Obviously, hearing different viewpoints from all over the world is valuable and interesting and mind-expanding, but I really like hearing how individuals express themselves. Verbal patterns, particular word choices and tics, etc. And Gessel Dome has a lot of that. These characters relate their own private sadnesses in their own peculiar way, and as a reader, you can just let it wash over you—like the sounds of the sea that are a constant throughout the book, rising and falling, tide in, tide out—hearing from myriad viewpoints one after another, some funny, all a bit damaged, and every one unique. That polyvocality is what truly won me over in terms of this book.

Buy it: Obviously, you can get this from your local bookshop or online retailer, but you can also buy it directly from us directly by clicking here. Or you can always subscribe to Open Letter—the best way to receive some of the most varied and interesting voices of international literature, delivered right to your door each and every month.

Next week I’ll be back with a different Open Letter title—a deep cut from the backlist . . .

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The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

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I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

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Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

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The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

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A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

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The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

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Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

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