8 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, with an introduction from Bruce Sterling. This will be officially available from Small Beer Press is bringing this out in late-January, but it can be preordered here.

Here’s the description from Small Beer’s website:

This huge anthology of more than thirty all-original Mexican science fiction and fantasy features ghost stories, supernatural folktales, alien incursions, and apocalyptic narratives, as well as science-based chronicles of highly unusual mental states in which the borders of fantasy and reality reach unprecedented levels of ambiguity. Stereotypes of Mexican identity are explored and transcended by the thoroughly cosmopolitan consciousnesses underlying these works. It is a landmark of contemporary North American fiction that deserves a wide readership.

And we actually ran a review of this by Sara Cohen back near Halloween. (Too fitting, no?) Here’s what she had to say about the two stories that you can read here.

“Photophobia,” by Mauricio Monteil Figueiras.

You can tell from the start that “Photophobia” is more sophisticated than most stories in this collection—the vocabulary is complex, the concept unquestionably cerebral. An apocalyptic narrative is told through stream-of-consciousness storytelling that cleverly distracts from the story’s premise until the ending begins to shed some light on the narrator’s purpose and motives. The tale stands out in this populist collection of stories like a sore thumb, but I’m glad it was included. Here is a typical (and excellent) sentence:

“Eternity, he thought, pocket apocalypses: man has not learned the lessons of history, he is still the ignorant student who recorded his confusion in the caves of Altamira—it’s just that the caves have become tabloids.”

“The Drop” by Claudia Guillén.

In “The Drop,” a depressed young woman refuses to leave her room, watching drops of water fall to the floor. Her mother (the stated villain of the piece) claims that if the dripping stops, her child will die. A visiting doctor learns about himself as he studies the girl. That’s it, the entire premise. But the story is well-told, the ending surprising, and it’s the kind of eerie tale that sticks with you.

Again, click here for the complete preview, and click here for Sara’s review. And then, if you like what you read, buy the book via Small Beer’s website.

All of the past RTN featured titles can be found here.

14 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, which is translated from the Bulgarian by Angel Rodel, and won the first annual Contemporary Bulgarian Writers Contest.

This contest is sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, the America for Bulgaria Foundation, and Open Letter Books. It grew out of conversations that took place during the Sozopol Seminar that I attended a few years ago (which also featured skinny dipping in the Black Sea—a statement that sounds way more titillating when tossed-off like that than it was in reality), and resulted in the publication of this amazing book. (We’re only days away from announcing this year’s winner, so stay tuned.)

Before talking about the book, here’s a couple quick things about Milen: He’s the author of two novels, the Pocket Encyclopedia of Mysteries, which won the Bulgarian Prize for Debut Fiction, and Thrown into Nature, which received the VIK Novel of the Year prize. He’s also a translator from English into Bulgarian, and gave an amazing presentation in Sozopol about the horrors of translating Martin Amis. (After listening to him talk about living with these awful, horrible characters in his mind for months and months, I felt like translators—at least of certain books—deserved some sort of compensatory mental health care.) But of all that, I mostly remember Milen dropping the phrase “Kentucky Fried Chicken happy hour,” which is evocative in its oddness, and hits on a certain something . . .

Thrown into Nature is probably not the book you expect when you think of “Bulgarian literature.” There are no Bulgarians in here, it takes place in Spain, and is set in the 1500s. It’s a sort of adventure novel about Dr. Monardes and his Portuguese assistant, da Silva (who narrates), as they traverse Spain “curing” many a person through the use of tobacco. It’s a very funny book that features a smoke enema, the use of smoke to eradicate a poltergeist, and a start up industry of using tobacco to improve health care for animals, but behind all these set-pieces is the realization (from our modern perspective) that it was medical delusions like this that gave rise to the worldwide smoking epidemic.

Over at Read This Next you can read a sample and you can also read a full review of the novel by clicking here.

Finished copies of this book are shipping to subscribers tomorrow, but you can also order one by clicking here.

8 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This was actually announced a couple days ago, but I just received an email from French publisher P.O.L. celebrating the awarding of the Prix Renaudot to Emmanuel Carrère for his new novel Limonov.

Limonov is not a fictional character. He exists. I know him. He was a lout in Ukraine; an idol of the Soviet underground under Brezhnev; a tramp, then a manservant to a millionaire in Manhattan; a trendy writer in Paris; a soldier lost in the wars of the Balkans; and now, in the immense chaos of Russian post-communism, an old charismatic chef of a party of young desperados. He sees himself as a hero, it’s possible to consider him as a bastard: I’ll reserve my judgment.

His life is adventurous and ambiguous: a true novel. And I believe his life tells us something. Not only about himself, Limonov, not only about Russia, but about the history of us all after the Second World War.

This is how Emmanuel Carrère describes his last novel. What he doesn’t say is to what extent he has succeeded in creating a breathtaking contemporary epic novel from this extraordinary life, to be read without stopping in great exaltation. Most certainly because his knowledge of the subject is complete, his inquiry was thorough, having read all of Limonov’s books, of course, and what has been written about him, meeting him himself, and all the witnesses it was possible to contact, but especially because his talent as a narrator is immense, and that he masterly rendered not only the character’s complexity, but also that of his country and his time.

This sounds fantastic, and like a great follow up to Lives Other than My Own, which came out earlier this year, and which we featured on Read This Next. FSG already bought the rights to this new book, although there’s no info available about when it will be available in English translation.

31 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at Salon, Kevin Canfield has a nice piece about the challenges of translation and the way translators are underappreciated:

Gavin Bowd, the English translator for Michel Houellebecq, was working on the controversial French novelist’s “The Map and the Territory” — Knopf will publish the first American edition in January — when he came to a chapter about a character who’d decided to commit suicide at a legal euthanasia clinic. As the book’s narrator put it, the clinic’s medical staff was “going to ‘se faire des couilles en or,’” Bowd recalled. “Literally: they were going to turn their balls into gold.”

Herein lies the translator’s dilemma. Bowd’s mission is stay as loyal as possible to the original text. But in this case, a strict translation would be ridiculous. “I translated: they were going to make a killing” in fees, Bowd added via e-mail from Scotland, where he teaches French at the University of St. Andrews. “In the context, I prefer that.”

These are the kind of decisions that translators make on a line-by-line basis. Readers don’t notice these artful adjustments, but their enjoyment of literature in translation is dependent upon them. But even as the American appetite for foreign fiction — Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium trilogy” remains a bestseller, Haruki Murakami’s just-published “1Q84” is a huge hit, and the months ahead will bring big new English editions from international stars like Umberto Eco, Roberto Bolaño and Peter Nadas — the translators of these works typically labor in anonymity. Some even crave it.

For long-time readers of this or similar blogs, a lot of this—especially the litany of gripes—will sound familiar, but it’s still fun to read:

It’s true in America, but it’s even truer in Britain, that there is a kind of cloud of disapproval over translators and translations,” said David Bellos, a translator of novels by Ismail Kadare and Georges Perec and the author of the new book “Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything” (Faber and Faber). “Reviews in the [Times Literary Supplement] of translated books — if they mention the translating at all, it’s to disparage it. Bit by bit over the years, I’ve come to realize that these are very effective devices for holding the foreign at bay. It’s a way of comforting yourself: ‘Oh well, I only read English, and I don’t really have to take these books from elsewhere terribly seriously because they are only translations.’”

Though he chuckles about it — “Bellyaching is part of the community, I’m afraid,” he said — Bellos has a good case when he says that translators deserve better. “A long novel — maybe you get $10,000, in dribs and drabs. A bit on signature, a bit when you deliver the manuscript, a bit when it’s published. How many of those have you got to do in a year to make that a living? More than is really conceivable to do well,” he said. “You would have to translate at 90 miles an hour and not revise. Most literary translators don’t want to do that, even if they could. You can’t really live as a literary or book translator in the English-speaking world as a full-time job and also sleep.” [. . .]

Not too long ago, Imre Goldstein completed a translation of Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas’ 1,100-page “Parallel Stories,” which comes out in the U.S. in November (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Does Goldstein believe translators are appreciated, and properly compensated, for the work they do? “I do not,” he said in an email from Tel Aviv.

BTW, you can check out part of Goldstein’s translation of Parallel Stories by clicking here, and can read a nice chunk of Bellos’s book here.

4 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past weekend, the NY Times Book Review included this interesting essay by Rachel Donadio about reading Alberto Moravia:

In its culture as in its politics, Italy lives under the shadow of Silvio Berlusconi. With his endless legal entanglements and sexual imbroglios and his colorful manner of governing (or not governing), it often feels as if the prime minister has taken all the oxygen out of the room, the airwaves, the entire republic. “How did we get here?” is the dominant — indeed often the only — topic of conversation in Italy today.

The novelist Alberto Moravia, a 20th-­century giant whose work is generally overlooked today, offers one key to unlocking the mystery. Born in 1907, Moravia came of age under Fascism — he belonged to a generation of writers, including Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Elsa Morante (Moravia’s first wife), who found global audiences after the Second World War. In his most important novel, “The Conformist” (1951), Moravia explored the complicated links between sex and politics in a nation of cynical opportunists. The formative moment in the life of the protagonist, Marcello Clerici, comes at age 13, when he shoots a defrocked priest who has tried to seduce him. True to the novel’s title, Clerici, whose name means “clergy,” later joins the Fascist Party more out of boredom than conviction. In addition to exploring the homoeroticism of power (a theme that later captivated Pasolini), Moravia’s novel also delved into a careerism and even nihilism that he identified just below the surface of Italian society, reaching far deeper than any ideology.

Moravia died in 1990, a many-laureled man of letters. Several years later, three unpublished novellas were found by chance in a suitcase in his Rome residence. The manuscripts, which offer variations on a love story set during World War II, were most likely written in the early 1950s, between “The Conformist” and “Contempt,” a brutal 1954 account of a disintegrating marriage. Now they have been published under the title Two Friends (Other Press, $18.95), in an excellent translation by Marina Harss, offering a fascinating glimpse of how Moravia’s writing evolved. In one particularly revealing moment, the mother of a middle-class Roman family cries, “For all I care, the English can win, or the Germans. . . . I just want someone to win so we can forget all this!” Reading this today, in the long twilight of the Berlusconi era, the line is almost haunting.

Moravia (and his first wife, Elsa Morante) are both fantastic writers, and it’s great the Other Press has brought out this recently discovered series of novellas. For those interested in taking a closer look, Two Friends was one of the first books included in Read This Next, so you check out a preview by clicking here, or you can read an interview with Marina Harss. We also have a full review of the book by Acacia O’Connor.

29 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is David Bellos’s Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, which is coming out in late October from Faber and Faber.

As I mentioned on a couple of our Three Percent podcasts, this is one of the fall books that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. And now that I’ve had a chance to read it in full, I feel confident in saying that this is a perfect book for anyone involved or interested in translation. It’s wide-ranging, very readable, filled with fascinating anecdotes, and very thought-provoking. You can read my full review by clicking here.

Over at Read This Next you can read three chapters from the book: “Global Flows: Center and Periphery in the Translation of Books,” “Match Me If You Can: Translating Humor,” and “Style and Translation.”

In addition, you can read this piece about how Bellos came to write this book.

But when in June 2009 a plump, pink-faced person offhandedly remarked at some academic party that “a translation is obviously no substitute for the original”, I pedaled straight home, sat down at my desk and dashed off a squib against that thoughtless cliché.

It struck me that other translation clichés deserved similar treatment. I sketched out short essays against “making it sound like the original,” “traitor, translator,” and “les belles infidèles.” It was good to get them off my chest.

A few weeks later my son came to visit, and I showed him my pages. “Dad,” he said, “if you could stop writing like an academic, you could make a living out of this.”

There’s also a really great interview with David over at the Foyles website.

How would someone keen to work in the field of translation be best able to develop the required skills?

Go to university. Read lots of books. Write. Then read some more. Live in the country. Get married, have children and learn their nursery rhymes. Watch television. Read some more. Write. Then try your hand at translating. Best to start with a book you feel passionately interested in. But actually, there is no ‘main’ or ‘direct’ route into a career as a translator into English. Most of my colleagues in the field got into it by happenstance. Just don’t expect it will ever pay your rent.

And if you want a different sort of intro to the book, watch this video:

22 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Good Offices by Evelio Rosero, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom, and coming out from New Directions next week.

Good Offices is the second novel by Evelio Rosero (after The Armies, 2009) to be published by New Directions. It’s also the first to be translated by Anne McLean in collaboration with Anna Milsom.

In Good Offices, we are released into the world of Tancredo, a hunchback who has a deep fear of becoming an animal. Tancredo, the sexton’s goddaughter (Sabina Cruz) and the three witchlike widows work for a corrupt priest providing charity meals for the local poor. Their endless labor has drained them of their humanity. Their daily routines are soon to be broken, however, with the arrival of a new priest: Father Matamoros, a drunkard with a beautiful voice whose sung mass is spellbinding to all. Under the magical and disillusioning presence of Father Matamoros, the women and Tancredo spill their confessions and turbulent stories.

Click here to read an extended preview, which has a pretty striking opening:

He has a terrible fear of being an animal, especially on Thursdays, at lunchtime. “I have this fear,” he says to himself, and glimpses his hump reflected in the window. His eyes wander over his eyes: he does not recognize himself. What an other! He thinks. What an other! And examines his face. “On Thursdays,” and then, “this Thursday, especially, when it’s the old people’s turn.” Tuesdays for the blind, Mondays for the whores, Fridays for families, Wednesdays for the street kids, Saturdays and Sundays for God, or so says the priest.

Additionally, we posted an interview between Dan Vitale and Anna Milsom, which is definitely worth reading in full:

DV: How did you discover the book?

AM: Well, I met Anne at the BCLT summer school too—it must be a decade or so ago. We had a lot of fun and have stayed in touch since. Two years ago I was running a literary translation evening class at London Metropolitan University where I now teach and I invited Anne to come in as a guest speaker. She had Los almuerzos in her bag and suggested we might see about doing the translation collaboratively—I leapt at the chance, as you may imagine. Anne had already translated Rosero’s The Armies and together they had won the UK’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, so it felt pretty amazing to be discussing the possibility of working with such a formidable team. I got hold of the book as quickly as I could and the first thing I did was fall for the swooping rush of the prose. The second thing was to wonder how on earth to render it in English. Or perhaps I did those two things simultaneously. Translators read in a very special and peculiar way, I think, taking in the words as both readers and writers at the same time. It becomes hard not to do this, even when you’re reading purely for pleasure.

Finally, here’s Dan’s review of the novel, which opens:

Evelio Rosero’s first novel to be translated into English since his award-winning The Armies takes place on a much smaller scale than that hallucinatory story about the damaging effects of civil war in Colombia. Good Offices, lighter in tone and slighter than The Armies, documents the events of a single day in a single location: a Catholic church in Bogotá. The tale is told through the eyes of Tancredo, a young man with a hunchback, who assists the priest of the church, Father Almida, as an occasional acolyte but mainly by running the daily free lunches the church offers to the city’s neediest residents: “Tuesdays for the blind, Mondays for the whores, Fridays for families, Wednesdays for the street kids, Saturdays and Sundays for God, or so says the priest.”

Click here to access all of these features and to find links where you can buy a copy of the book.

22 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Evelio Rosero’s first novel to be translated into English since his award-winning The Armies takes place on a much smaller scale than that hallucinatory story about the damaging effects of civil war in Colombia. Good Offices, lighter in tone and slighter than The Armies, documents the events of a single day in a single location: a Catholic church in Bogotá. The tale is told through the eyes of Tancredo, a young man with a hunchback, who assists the priest of the church, Father Almida, as an occasional acolyte but mainly by running the daily free lunches the church offers to the city’s neediest residents: “Tuesdays for the blind, Mondays for the whores, Fridays for families, Wednesdays for the street kids, Saturdays and Sundays for God, or so says the priest.”

Tancredo and Father Almida not only work at the church but live in its presbytery, along with Machado, the sacristan; Sabina, Machado’s goddaughter; and “the three Lilias,” a clutch of women who run the household and who have come to resemble one another so closely that they go by the same name. The novel opens on a Thursday afternoon, “when it’s the old people’s turn” to be served lunch, and Tancredo has just finished kicking out the last of the diners. The anger he feels at their insistence on remaining in the church hall long past the end of the meal stirs in him “a terrible fear of being an animal,” although he is for the most part a mild-mannered, studious, and obedient servant of the church.

Beyond its opening pages, however, this short novel barely concerns Tancredo’s primary job. We witness a meeting at which Father Almida informs Tancredo that, starting Monday, the sacristan of the church will begin assisting Tancredo with the lunches, but after this scene nothing more about the meals is mentioned, which is a disappointment—and an oddity, considering that the Spanish title of Good Offices is Los almuerzos (“the lunches”).

Sabina, who lusts after Tancredo and has been waiting for a chance to be alone with him, is excited when Father Almida and her godfather are called away Thursday evening on a mysterious errand to dissuade Don Justiniano, the church’s main financial benefactor, from withdrawing his largesse on the basis of unspecified “lies” purportedly being spread by other priests in the city about the church’s use of Don Justiniano’s funds. But ultimately it is the three Lilias, not Sabina, who take the most pleasure from what transpires in the two men’s absence.

The book’s plot turns out to be built on an archetype: the arrival of a charismatic stranger who forever changes the life of a small, well-ordered community. Father Matamoros appears during a rainstorm to fill in for Father Almida at seven o’clock Mass. In contrast to Almida’s plainspoken efficaciousness, Matamoros is dreamy and poetic (and fond of drink—he swigs aguardiente during the service). But what most endears him to the evening parishioners is that he sings the Mass rather than speaks it, in a voice of great beauty and devotion:

Beneath the cold vaulted reaches, his voice seemed to come from heaven. He repeated his invitation to repent, singing: Beloved brethren, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins. It was as if the organ were sounding. Tancredo lifted his gaze to the marble dome as if escaping and saw the host of painted angels flying among the clouds; he saw them return his gaze and still did not know whether to feel terrified or moved. How long it had been, he thought, since Mass had been sung. The purity of the voice was the air they breathed.

After this miracle of a Mass, the Lilias immediately and passionately ingratiate themselves with Matamoros, making him comfortable, bringing him food and drink and fawning over his talents. But the Mass of Father Matamoros also unleashes something disturbingly otherworldly in them, inspiring them (among other unusual behaviors) to conduct a bizarre and violent ritual in the church garden. Through the night and into the early hours of Friday, their power and ferocity grow to such an extent that not even Father Almida and Machado, when they return from their errand the next morning, are safe from it.

As difficult as it is to describe exactly what has happened to the Lilias, it is even more difficult to speculate about the significance Rosero ascribes to it. New Directions’ fall catalog states that Good Offices is a “beautifully poetic and vivid satire of the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church,” but the stability that Matamoros and the Lilias upset seems composed of far murkier and much more poorly explained elements than mere religious hypocrisy. Or perhaps it is the fervor of the Lilias themselves that is being satirized, but again, if so, Rosero is being far vaguer about his targets than true satire demands.

Further, at the end of the novel Rosero seems to be taking pains to cast Tancredo and Sabina as some kind of modern Adam and Eve, but over what new paradise (or hell?) they are to supposed to reign Rosero does not specify. We finish the book feeling we have experienced something unsettling, but unsure what, and still wondering what is to become of those daily free lunches we read about at the start.

9 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Prelude Apology: Sorry for being a bit behind—I’m home sick with a nasty cold . . . More posting and podcasting next week.

This week’s featured Read This Next title is Penguin Lost, the second book in Andrey Kurkov’s detective series that, yes, includes a penguin (and is translated from the Russian by George Bird):

Andrey Kurkov’s first book to be published in English, Death and the Penguin, was hailed by leading critics in the US and the UK as “a tragicomic masterpiece” (The Daily Telegraph) of suspense about life on the crime-riddled streets of an impoverished, post-Soviet Kiev. But until now, fans haven’t been able to read the sequel and find out what happened to Viktor and his silent cohort, the penguin Misha, whom Viktor was forced to abandon at the end of the novel while fleeing Mafia vengeance.

Admirers need wait no longer. Now available for the first time in the US, Penguin Lost sees Viktor grab at the opportunity to return to Kiev incognito and launch an intensive, guilt-wracked search for Misha.

It’s a search that will take Viktor across the Ukraine to Moscow and back, vividly depicting a troubled landscape. It once again lands Viktor in league with a series of criminals and corrupt officials, each of whom know something of what happened to Misha, and each of whom are willing to pass that information along if Viktor will just help them with one more job. . . And it’s a tale told once again in a style that’s part Bulgakov and part Hitchcock, simultaneously funny and ominous, nearly absurd and all-too-real.

Readers may find themselves rooting even harder for Viktor this time, as he presses forward on his odyssey under even more dangerous circumstances, in another brilliantly rich and topical book from a contemporary Russian master.

Everyone I know who has read Death and the Penguin absolutely loves it, and I’m sure this is going to be a huge favorite as well.

Click here to read an extended preview. And remember, you can buy the novel directly from Melville House Publishing by clicking here.

In addition to the preview, we also posted a short interview with Kurkov himself:

Read This Next: To butcher a quote from Michel Houellebecq: it’s a writer’s responsibility to find a theme and then use their novels to explore that theme. In your novels, I sense that this kind of thematic exploration is going on. Do you feel that your work has an overarching theme? That you’re returning to the same ground again and again? If so, what do you feel this theme to be?

Andrey Kurkov: Until recently I had been writing two kinds of novels. The first kind are novels dedicated to the history of the evolution of the Soviet utopian mentality, and the second—evolution of post-soviet mentality. Now I am going on only with post-Soviet theme, i.e., what happens to people who live in the country much younger than they are. The fact is that in the early-mid 90s most of people (who were not old) were really infantile and were waiting either for a miracle, or for luck, or were looking for would-be victims. I was interested in evolution of post-Soviet infantile intellectuals, until I noticed that, with time, some of them stopped being passive and left their hide-outs, where they were hiding from roughness of life. Penguin Lost is actually a transitional novel in this sense—Viktor was very infantile in Death and the Penguin, but became more entrepreneurial and dynamic in the sequel.

Finally, you can also read E.J.‘s review of the novel:

Viktor Zolotaryov, the hero of Death and the Penguin, here returns for a second adventure, this time seeking out his friend and closest companion, the penguin Misha. At the start of the novel Viktor is in Antarctica, having taken Misha’s seat on a plane to escape with his life at the end of Death and the Penguin. Misha has, in the meantime, disappeared, and most of the action in Penguin Lost consists of Viktor’s increasingly dangerous attempts to track down his friend, whom he thinks has been moved from Kiev to Moscow.

And so begins a tour through the underworld, which in this case is the world of the moneyed elite, or which has instead has become the only world, of post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine. [. . .]

The Viktor of Penguin Lost is a more energetic and invigorated figure than the one we met in Death and the Penguin, one who, at first, seems to have taken his fate in to his hands in a way that the earlier Viktor seemed incapable of doing. But for all his activity, it becomes apparent that all this energy and vigor is only allowed to find expression by the good graces of the moneyed and powerful, that only stubbornness and luck allow him to accomplish anything at all—his seeming willfulness masks a helplessness, a complete domination of the public and political sphere by the demands of criminal-capitalism, that seems an even more damning criticism of the post-Soviet East than the one represented by the beaten-down Viktor of Death and the Penguin.

Enjoy all of this, and be sure to get a copy of the book . . .

And if you’re looking for something new to read, we now have extended previews of 14 titles up at Read This Next that you can check out.

24 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The interview with Emmanuel Carrere about Lives Other Than My Own — this week’s Read This Next title — just went live. Here’s an excerpt:

Lily Ye: You write that this is a book for others (especially Juliette’s daughters), but has it had an effect on you as well? How do you think this narrative will affect readers who do not personally know the people you are writing about?

Emmanuel Carrere: I would not write books if I did not expect or at least hope that they would have an effect on myself (not only making myself a better writer, but a better person). I’d like for my books to be read not only by devoted and informed readers, but also, let’s say, by the kind of people who read only one or two books in a year. I try to deal with complex issues in the simplest and clearest way, and, as you know, being simple and clear is a very demanding job. And I feel gratified when people who have had to cope with illness, great poverty or mourning and, for these reasons, were afraid to open a book about such issues, tell me that reading it has helped them.

LY: How was writing this book different from writing My Life as a Russian Novel?

EC: That book was autobiographical, which this one is not—although I am present as narrator and witness. My Life as a Russian Novel was about misfortune brought on by neurosis (I don’t know how else to translate the French word “Malheur”), this book is about ordinary misfortune (by which I mean illness, separation, death)—and I agree with Freud when he says that the best thing you can expect of psychoanalysis is to exchange neurotic misfortune for ordinary misfortune. Finally, I published My Life as a Russian Novel against the will of two of its main characters (my mother and my girlfriend Sophie). I took the risk of deeply hurting their feelings (which I had to, for my own sake, but which I regret and hope never to do again). Lives Other Than My Own was written at the request and with the agreement of its main characters: I submitted the book to them before it was published and gave them the opportunity to ask for any changes they wanted (in fact, they asked almost nothing)—and for all these reasons I feel at peace with them and with myself.

Click here to read the entire interview. On Friday we’ll be posting a review of this novel, and hopefully in the next month or so, we’ll have a review of Carrere’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, which I’ve been wanting to read for years. . . .

22 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For this week’s Read This Next, we have chosen a book by French author and screenwriter Emmanuel Carrère, who began his career writing fiction but has transitioned to a particularly self-examining non-fiction. His last book was the revealing autobiographic My Life as a Russian Novel, and the one before that The Adversary, the story of Jean-Claude Romand, the notorious French criminal who pretended to be a doctor for almost two decades and then killed everyone who might expose him, including his parents and family. But even within The Adversary, Carrère keeps himself in the text, including much of his correspondence and incidents in his own family life, and questioning his motives in writing the book.

In Lives Other Than My Own, the subject matter is tragic—Carrère is present at the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, and a couple whom he and his girlfriend, Hélène, have befriended lose their young daughter to the wave; Helene’s sister is diagnosed with cancer, a relapse from her teenage years. Throughout all this, Carrère suffers no personal misfortune other than his connection to these sad tales, and like an ethnographer striving for full disclosure, he presents himself, his jealousies, his sympathies, in the very telling of the stories of those the book is titled after.

This week, we have an interview with Carrère, a full review, and an excerpt from the text in which we start off by situating ourselves in Sri Lanka and becoming familiar with the complications that have arisen between Carrère and Hélène.

Click here to read an extended preview of Lives Other Than My Own, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale and coming out in September from Metropolitan Books.

19 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

To support this week’s “Read This Next”: title, we just posted an interview with Daniel Hahn about his translation of Goncalo Tavares’s Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique:

Lily Ye: In Learning to Pray, the tone of the book seemed to me to be very severe, perhaps in reflection of the personality of the protagonist, Lenz Buchmann. Would you agree with this assessment, both in your translation and in the original, and how did it affect the process of translation? That is, how did you find translating this particular style of writing?

Daniel Hahn: Yes, it’s severe—it’s very chilly and cynical, and generally I think a pretty bleak place to be. There’s one sense in which this made it a difficult translation job (though not in the sense meant by your question, I think)—when you translate a book you live in it much more intensely, and naturally for a much longer period, than if you’re simply strolling through it once as a reader, and when a book is sown through with views as toxic as those found here, it doesn’t make it an altogether pleasant place to be living. That said, he’s a brilliant writer, and translating brilliant writing is always more enjoyable than translating mediocre writing, unsurprisingly.

Your question I guess is more to do with style, though, and that was certainly difficult to get right. It’s one of the hardest books I’ve worked on in terms of making sense of the structure of complicated sentences, sometimes very imprecise and sometimes very sharp-focus; this also meant that it benefited from a pretty significant edit once I was done, from a rigorous editor who approached it simply as an English-language reader—the result, I think, might be pulling away from my draft and producing something a little smoother for English-language readers.

You can read the entire interview here.

17 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next featured selection is Goncalo Tavare’s Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, and available from Dalkey Archive Press at the end of the month.

E.J. wrote about Tavares a couple years back when he won the Portugal Telecom Prize for Jerusalem. He included this bit about the “Neighborhood” books, which really should be available to English readers:

We found out about Tavares at Frankfurt and got our hands on a few of his “Neighborhood” books—some of which have been translated into English by TransBooks in India (What kind of audience is there is in India for Portuguese translations . . . into English?). Each book in the series is a small collection of short stories inspired by literary and artistic figures. The ones we have in English are Mister Brecht, Mister Valéry, Mister Henri, and Mister Juarroz. It appears that the neighborhood—represented in an illustration on the back of the books by a sketch of a set of buildings with arrows telling you which building, and which window, each person lives in—is ever expanding, but so far includes, among others, Calvino, Kafka, Walser, and Woolf.

They’re incredible little books, and the stories remind me a lot of Augosto Monterroso’s. For the most part the stories are very short—some are only a few lines long—and fable-like, and some of the stories feature the writer/artist as main characters.

Jerusalem came out from Dalkey in the fall of 2009 in Anna Kushner’s translation to a lot of great attention. It’s great that they’re also doing Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique, which, as mentioned above is translated by Daniel Hahn.

Daniel is a great translator who I had the chance to meet at the Salzburg Global Seminar on translation a few years ago. He’s most well-known as a translator for his work on Jose Agualusa, and is currently an interim co-director (with fellow Salzburg alum Kate Griffin) of the British Centre for Literary Translation in East Anglia.

Later this week we’ll be posting an interview with Daniel, but for now, you can read an extended preview of Learning to Pray, which is described below:

In a city not quite of any particular era, a distant and calculating man named Lenz Buchmann works as a surgeon, treating his patients as little more than equations to be solved: life and death no more than results to be worked through without the least compassion. Soon, however, Buchmann’s ambition is no longer content with medicine, and he finds himself rising through the ranks of his country’s ruling party . . . until a diagnosis transforms this likely future president from a leading player into just another victim. In language that is at once precise, clinical, and oddly childlike, Gonçalo M. Tavares—the Portuguese novelist hailed by José Saramago as the greatest of his generation—here brings us another chilling investigation into the limits of human experience, mapping the creation and then disintegration of a man we might call “evil,” and showing us how he must learn to adapt in a world he can no longer dominate.

12 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lily Ye on Moacyr Scliar’s Kafka’s Leopards forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press in Thomas Beebee’s translation from the Brazilian Portuguese.

As Lily recommends in her review, you should definitely read this piece by Thomas Beebee and then read this preview of the book. Scliar is one of the past century’s best writers, and it’s awesome that Texas Tech is making more of his work available to American readers.

Click here to read Lily’s piece on this short novel.

12 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was going to write a review of Kafka’s Leopards by the recently deceased Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar, and then I got around to reading the piece that translator Thomas Beebee wrote for us on Scliar, his writings, and Kafka’s Leopards and realized that there was not much enlightenment that I could offer on any of these topics that Thomas had not already covered. So I come to you today, humbly, from a place of little knowledge, and suggest that you read Thomas’s wonderful piece on all things surrounding Kafka’s Leopards and then go ahead and read the book itself.

Running at under 100 pages, Kafka’s Leopards tells the story of Mousy, the logistics of which you can basically read from start to finish on the back of the book, but which is told with much more love on the part of Scliar. In brief, Mousy is a Brazilian Jew who is summoned to carry out a plot on the part of Trotsky which involves going to Prague and receiving and decoding a text. Mousy manages to mess this up and instead ends up with a short text from Franz Kafka himself, concerning leopards.

Mousy is a sympathetic character who can fall in love with a woman from a smile, and who is fiercely dedicated to the ideals of the Communist movement, but in whose whole life there is but this one seminal anecdote which overwhelms with its intrigue and its hijinks. This is the story of that anecdote, and its brief return to the limelight later in Mousy’s life.

Quite frankly, there is no reason not to read this book. Scliar entertains and moves the readers as much as he may perhaps dwell on the idea of the transmission of messages, the interpretation of texts (read Beebee’s piece for more on this!). He is never heavy-handed, and in fact, handles the character of Mousy as gently as such a character must be handled. We can practically feel the sweat beading on Mousy’s forehead, the warm heat building with anxiety, as well as the pride that swells up within him when he has carried out part of his mission correctly, or so he believes. Scliar writes to a perfect length, not letting the story going any longer or shorter than is necessary; and in the interest of not exceeding the book in length, I will simply conclude that reading this book was a pleasure and I would highly recommend it as a quick end-of-summer read.

11 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For those who didn’t get enough from the other week’s Read This Next on Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine of Czernopol, we’ve added an interview with the translator, Philip Boehm. Here’s a little excerpt:

Lily Ye: What did you think of the way in which Rezzori is able to voice different characters (as there is a lot of direct quoting in this novel) and how did you approach the translation of these different registers and argots into English?

Philip Boehm: First I have to “hear” the voices in the original. Then I try to find a suitable musical key in English. I also work professionally as a theater director and am often struck by how that activity overlaps my work as a translator—interpreting the text, envisioning the script, clearly defining characters, etc.

In rendering the accents and argots, it’s important to bear in mind that a Russian inflection, say, sounds different to a German ear than to an English one. There are also occasions when it’s best to know the proper mispronunciation.

Read the full text here.

11 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In support of this week’s Read This Next title—Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar—translator Thomas Beebee wrote this essay about the man and the novel:

The extended European setting of Kafka’s Leopards is adventuresome for Scliar, but Kafka’s Leopards is a frame-tale connecting Porto Alegre in 1965, Brazil’s southernmost metropolis, with Bessarabia and Prague in 1917. Scliar’s depictions of the Jewish-Brazilians of Porto Alegre have repeatedly emphasized the transatlantic connection between Old World and New that we see in this text as well. The author himself has categorized much of his fiction as belonging to the “literature of immigration.” The title story of the collection A Balada do Falso Messias (The Ballad of the False Messiah) opens with two Russian Jews conversing on board the steamer that is carrying them to Brazil, expressing their relief at no longer having to fear annihilation in a pogrom. Benjamin Kantorovitch, the protagonist of Kafka’s Leopards who moves from the Old World to the New, and his family could be on the same ship; they are certainly fleeing the same set of circumstances.

Brazilian prose fiction has been shaped by authors who write about their own region or city: Machado de Assis for Rio de Janeiro, José Lins do Rego and Rachel de Queiroz for the Northeast, Jorge Amado for Bahia, João Guimarães Rosa for Minas Gerais, Márcio Souza for the Amazon, João Almino for Brasília, Érico Veríssimo for the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and Moacyr Scliar for Porto Alegre, the largest conurbation of that state and one that has welcomed many immigrants, including European Jews. In one sense, Scliar fit the regionalist mold, setting many of his longer texts in the Porto Alegre neighborhood of Bom Fim, where he himself had grown up as the son of immigrants from Russia. And that focus on his Jewish neighborhood made Scliar the first Brazilian author to give the life of Jews in Brazil a central place in his fiction. Like Amado and Guimarães Rosa, Scliar added elements of magic realism to many of the events he wrote about, but he owed these techniques more to the work of Franz Kafka than to precursors in Brazil or Latin America. Allusions to, and even direct citations of, the Czech-Jewish author’s work abound in Scliar’s fiction, culminating in the appearance of Kafka as a central character in Kafka’s Leopards. Before embarking on these portrayals, Scliar studied medicine and continued to work most of his adult life for the government health services of Brazil—again, something of a parallel with Kafka, who worked for an insurance company during the day and wrote through the night. Not surprisingly, the body and its ailments figure in many of Scliar’s works. The interior monologue of the aging protagonist of The Strange Nation of Rafael Mendes (A Estranha Nação de Rafael Mendes) begins with an assessment of his bladder. Naturally, in Kafka’s Leopards the tuberculosis of Franz Kafka, one of the great invalids of world literature, receives a telling description from the knowing perception of another Jew, a resident of one of the Russian shtetls that were the origin of many who eventually settled in Bom Fim. In Kafka’s Leopards, tuberculosis becomes a bond between Yiddish-speaking Benjamin “Mousy” Kantorovitch from the Bessarabian shtetl and the sophisticated, German-speaking urban Jew Franz Kafka:

“Kafka looked at him fixedly. Suddenly he started coughing. A small, dry cough, subdued but persistent, alarming. Mousy shivered. He knew that cough: it indicated, he knew this for sure, tuberculosis—the specter that joined the pogroms in terrorizing Jewish villages. Kafka did not live in a village, but he had all the markings of a victim: the thinness, the pallor, the cheeks colored slightly red. In addition to the cold of the frigid little house that couldn’t be good for a tubercular. An immense sorrow took hold of Mousy, the same sorrow as would possess his mother if she were in his shoes: you’re sick, Kafka, very sick, that cough is not a laughing matter, it’s not a fiction, it’s tuberculosis.”

[. . .]

In Kafka’s Leopards, Scliar has created a story that addresses themes of Brazilian and European history, Jewish writing, the travels of literature, and fundamental questions of reading, such as how the rightness or wrongness of a literary interpretation is to be judged. Scliar’s text becomes in this regard as self-referential and critifictional as a short story by J. L. Borges, a novel by Italo Calvino—or a Kafka text such as “The Silence of the Sirens” or “The Truth About Sancho Panza.” Mousy’s story is one of a series of textual and interpretive substitutions, as he moves from Torah to the Communist Manifesto to the Kafka aphorism. That aphorism becomes different things to different people in different contexts. Not only the meaning, but the very genre of the text changes. Mousy takes it to be a revolutionary message in code, but explains it to the shammes as a puzzle he must solve for a contest. Conversely, Mousy goes to Prague under another name, and is constantly taken by others in the text, from the sinister desk clerk at the hotel to the sympathetic Bertha, for something other than what he is. Mousy’s brief stay in Prague becomes a giant, dialectical game of interpreting and being interpreted. Kafka, we might say, is also as disguised for Mousy, as he was for many of his Prague colleagues and contemporaries, almost none of whom recognized him as a literary genius: only decades later does Mousy realize that he was lucky enough to receive a text from one of the giants of world literature. In Brazil, the material text given to Mousy by Kafka becomes an object of exchange, as Mousy urges his fugitive nephew Jaime to sell it to an antiquarian in São Paulo, and a sacrificial object devoured by the leopard-like chief of police in exchange for Jaime’s freedom. In his study of the puzzling relationship between writing and secrecy, Frank Kermode uses Kafka’s parable to illustrate the paradoxical and unstable difference between “insiders”—those with a special status or knowledge that enables them to grasp the hidden meaning of a text—and clueless “outsiders.” The leopards represent the penetrative aspect of hermeneutic interpretation, the temple the reserve of meaning that the cryptic text always holds in reserve. The leopards are able to “break open” or “divide the word” of the text—except for the fact that they have now become part of it. Outsiders become insiders become outsiders again. Such is the alternation of blindness and insight in Scliar’s novella.

Click here to read the whole piece. And click here to preview Kafka’s Leopards.

9 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week at Read This Next we’re featuring Kafka’s Leopards, a short book by celebrated and prolific Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar that’s translated from the Portuguese by Thomas Beebee and forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press.

This book is one of strange misunderstandings, attributions of vital meaning to coincidence, that create the central story of interest in the protagonist’s life. Mousy is a tailor who always insists on cutting left sleeves a little shorter so that it is easier to read a wristwatch, much to the chagrin of his customers. Entrusted with a secret mission, one originally issued by Trotsky himself, Mousy heads out to Prague and bumbles his way into the life of Franz Kafka.

Fittingly, this title originally caught the eye of translator Thomas Beebee as he was looking through a shelf Portuguese books and glimpsed Kafka’s name on one of the spines. This week we have an introduction to the novel from Beebee himself, and a full review on Friday.

In case you’re not familiar with Scliar already, here’s a link to his obituary, which includes reference to the whole “Max and the Cats” and “Life of Pi” controversy:

‘‘Max and the Cats,’‘ about a Jewish youth who flees Nazi Germany on a ship carrying wild animals to a Brazilian zoo and, after a shipwreck, ends up sharing a lifeboat with a jaguar, achieved fame twice over. Critically praised on its publication in 1981, it touched off a literary storm in 2002 when the Canadian writer Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize for ‘‘Life of Pi,’‘ about an Indian youth trapped on a boat with a tiger.

Mr. Martel’s admission that he borrowed the idea led to an impassioned debate among writers and critics on the nature of literary invention and the ownership of words and images.

“In a certain way I feel flattered that another writer considered my idea to be so good, but on the other hand, he used that idea without consulting me or even informing me,’‘ Mr. Scliar told The New York Times. ‘‘An idea is intellectual property.”

I hesitate to even mention that, since it would be much better if Scliar were known in this country for his great works—The Centaur in the Garden, The War in Bom Fim—than this controversy. But it is kind of interesting, and it’s always fun to besmirch overrated novels . . .

Anyway, click here to read the beginning of Mousy’s trip to Prague and the misfortune that begins the whole jumbled series of events.

5 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next activities, we just published an interview with Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping about their translation of Can Xue’s Vertical Motion.

Here’s an excerpt:

Read This Next: You’ve been working with Can Xue for a while now. How did you first discover her work?

Chen Zeping: We had read some of her short stories along with some by other avant-garde writers. After translating one story for Manoa and one for Conjunctions, we continued translating stories by Can Xue whenever either she or editors invited us to do so.

Karen Gernant: Another translator, Herbert Batt, was serving as guest editor for an issue of Manoa that was published in 2003. He asked us if we would like to translate some stories by the avant-garde writer Can Xue. We translated five, of which Manoa’s editor Frank Stewart selected one. Can Xue evidently liked our work, for when Conjunctions editors Brad Morrow and Martine Bellen solicited a story from her for an issue that also appeared in 2003, she turned to us to translate the story.

RTN: Can Xue’s writing is simultaneously straightforward—it’s not complicated to read from sentence to sentence—and complex—the straightforwardness masks a great deal of narrative depth. As translators, does this style pose any special challenges?

CZP: I understand that the translators’ job is to transfer the works into another language in such a way as to convey the original. We avoid adding any interpretation if we do not have to. In most cases, CX’s stories have their own surface logic so that sentences are also logically connected.

KG: As Chen Zeping suggests, we translate what we see on the page, allowing readers to interpret these words as they choose. We think that readers must enter into Can Xue’s stories in order to understand them. But we do not think it’s our job as translators to lead readers toward that understanding.

Click here to read the whole interview.

2 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following up on the Read This Next feature of Magdalena Tulli’s In Red, we now have now posted an interview with Polish translator Bill Johnston about this novel.

Bill is an amazing translator and reader, and this interview is filthy with interesting insights into both the translation process and Tulli’s work as a whole. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Here’s an excerpt:

LY: So do you think in her progression towards a more traditional narrative style, she’s losing something, or do you think that this is actually highlighting the unusualness of her writing?

BJ: Well, to me Flaw is the first overtly personal book that she’s written. It’s about a square in a bourgeois area of an unnamed city where a streetcar runs around the square in a circle. Over the course of the single day, refugees start to emerge from the streetcar and gather in the square. The people living around the square don’t know what to do with them and end up herding the refugees onto the little lawn at the center of the square and telling them they have to stay there. And at one point, one pregnant woman gives birth on the square. The baby’s delivered, but in the confusion the baby goes missing. It just disappears. One of the recurring devices in the book is that Tulli says of a particular character, “it could be you, it could be me,” and basically says about this baby: “it could be me.” It was at that point that I realized how personal the book is for Tulli. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor, and I think there’s a degree of trauma that can be read into all of her writings, but especially Flaw. This is a book about how one deals with “the unwanted,” what Mike Davis calls “surplus humanity,” but it’s also a book about Tulli herself. This was the first time I had seen her overtly present in one of her own books, not hiding behind the mask of a rather sort of pedantic narrator, which she often draws on. I see that very much as a progression.

And has she lost anything? I think Dreams and Stones is a really beautiful book. It’s very much a book of ideas, but it’s also a book of poetry for me, a book of images of extraordinary vividness. But I don’t think she loses that. Her style is always incredibly precise. When you sit down and start to translate something, you really quickly start to see whether the prose has been put together carefully, and in Tulli’s case there’s an extraordinary precision in her choice of words, in the choice of sentence structure, in the exact positioning of perspective mediating between the writer and the narrator, in the characters and so on. And I think that follows through all of the books. When I’ve shown Tulli drafts of the translations, we’ve had very long discussions about very precise phrasing. In fact, she’s even changed some of the original phrases for the English translation. I’m always a little worried that somebody’s going to sit down and compare the two versions and say this is a bad translation. There are some differences between the Polish and the English, but that’s because Tulli decided she should have written it differently. She’s known for revising her own work a great deal, so with each of her books I’ve had to make sure that the version that I’m working with is in fact the most recent version. It’s a little scary when you’re getting into a translation and somebody says, “Oh by the way, this new revised version just came out . . .”

So she’s very much a stylist in the mode of Flaubert, very concerned about word choice, and punctuation and sentence structure and so on, and I think that’s something that remains throughout all four books.

LY: Do you think this makes the process of translating her more difficult, or more enjoyable?

BJ: Both, definitely. For me, as a translator, difficult is enjoyable. Usually. When it’s a good challenge. As a translator I love writers who are very precise and creative with language. Who are not just telling a story in a kind of workmanlike fashion, but really revel in the material with which they’re making their stories. Tulli is very much in that mode. She’s extremely difficult, so it’s a slow process, but a very rewarding one when it finally comes out. It helps to have translated her other three books, because even though each book has a particular narrative voice, there’s still kind of an authorial—I hesitate to use the word “spirit” because of Douglas Robinson—there’s an authorial kind of underlying voice or discourse that can be traced from one book to another. Not that it goes any faster, but maybe I feel a little more confidence. Also, having corresponded so much with Tulli, as I’m working I can hear her comments, saying It’s not that word it’s this word and Could we not do it this way? or Do we have to have to have this syntax? and I think that helps.

Read the whole thing here.

2 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Vertical Motion, a new collection of stories by Can Xue, which is translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping and coming out from Open Letter in mid-September.

Super-intern Lily Ye explains why we selected this book for RTN:

This week we’ve chosen Can Xue’s Vertical Motion, a collection of truly fantastic short stories. We chose this book for many reasons. To start off, we haven’t been featuring any Asian writers so far, and since we say we’re committed to promoting literature the world over, we’d like to start correcting this oversight. Read This Next followers can also look forward to an advanced preview of a collection of short stories by celebrated Taiwanese author Huang Fan coming this September.

Can Xue (actually a pseudonym meaning “dirty snow, leftover snow” for Deng Xiaohua) has received praise from Robert Coover and Susan Sontag, has been likened to Kafka multiple times, and has been hailed as an innovative writer to be admired not just within the bounds of Chinese literature, but in world literature. Growing up in the Cultural Revolution during which her parents were sent to the countryside, Xue only received a formal education up through elementary school. She learned English on her own and has written books on Dante, Borges and Shakespeare.

Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping in collaboration, Vertical Motion features stories that do not complicate their language, but draw complicated worlds nonetheless. Readers will be dropped into settings and times which seem almost familiar, almost recognizable. Plants that grow underground, blind beaked underground creatures, cotton candy that can be summoned from thin air—all of Xue’s stories challenge what you think you know, what you think you should know, and what you think you can know. Read the title story and two more in the advanced preview to start exploring.

Click here to read “Vertical Motion,” “Red Leaves,” and “Elena.” And check back later in the week for an interview with the translators and a full review of the collection.

29 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lily Ye on this week’s Read This Next book, The Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor Von Rezzori. This novel is translated by Philip Boehm and forthcoming from New York Review Books.

This is the first book in the Von Rezzori trilogy, which also includes The Snows of Yesteryear and Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. All three titles are available from NYRB . . .

Here’s the opening of Lily’s review:

The Ermine of Czernopol is the first of Gregor von Rezzori’s semi-autobiographical novels about growing up in what was Austria-Hungary. In it, childhood is the conduit through which we must understand everything. The thing about a being a child is an unorthodox and oftentimes uncanny mode of perception, due to the foreign nature of those not yet fully socialized, coupled with a certain inability of expression. And this is an inevitable coupling as the very language that could do justice to children’s intuitions is only attainable through the very socialization that would dull these intuitions.

This is the conundrum that von Rezzori overcomes beautifully in Philip Boehm’s unabridged translation of The Ermine of Czernopol. In this memoir, we are treated to the un-opening of the world, its people and its countries, as understood by a group of children growing up in Czernopol, where there is a little bit of everything thrown together. The narrator speaks for his younger self, a young boy in this group of nigh inseparable siblings, as they eavesdrop upon the conversations of various adults, their primary source of information of the outside world. They listen to their frequent house guest, the prefect Herr Tarangolian, who gossips with authority; their tutor Herr Alexainu, who expounds on the nature of love; and countless others—all the while forming their own collective judgments and implications without fully comprehending what is being said. They dwell on the sounds of words and take delight in particular turns of phrase:

“The sayings we overheard, the whimsical sentences, the amazing word formations all burst into glowing colors when touched by the magical light of association [. . .]. It was like a star dropping from the sky if one of my siblings actually used in speech one of the words that had so excited us—for instance, when Tanya spoke of a leap of a great capacity—and if we were able to trace it back, not to the gymnastic exercises which Herr Alexainu had also described as a king of capacity, but to a name—in this case that of a certain Fraülein Kapralik. . . .”

To read the entire review, click here.

29 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Ermine of Czernopol is the first of Gregor von Rezzori’s semi-autobiographical novels about growing up in what was Austria-Hungary. In it, childhood is the conduit through which we must understand everything. The thing about a being a child is an unorthodox and oftentimes uncanny mode of perception, due to the foreign nature of those not yet fully socialized, coupled with a certain inability of expression. And this is an inevitable coupling as the very language that could do justice to children’s intuitions is only attainable through the very socialization that would dull these intuitions.

This is the conundrum that von Rezzori overcomes beautifully in Philip Boehm’s unabridged translation of The Ermine of Czernopol. In this memoir, we are treated to the un-opening of the world, its people and its countries, as understood by a group of children growing up in Czernopol, where there is a little bit of everything thrown together. The narrator speaks for his younger self, a young boy in this group of nigh inseparable siblings, as they eavesdrop upon the conversations of various adults, their primary source of information of the outside world. They listen to their frequent house guest, the prefect Herr Tarangolian, who gossips with authority; their tutor Herr Alexainu, who expounds on the nature of love; and countless others—all the while forming their own collective judgments and implications without fully comprehending what is being said. They dwell on the sounds of words and take delight in particular turns of phrase:

The sayings we overheard, the whimsical sentences, the amazing word formations all burst into glowing colors when touched by the magical light of association [. . .]. It was like a star dropping from the sky if one of my siblings actually used in speech one of the words that had so excited us—for instance, when Tanya spoke of a leap of a great capacity—and if we were able to trace it back, not to the gymnastic exercises which Herr Alexainu had also described as a king of capacity, but to a name—in this case that of a certain Fraülein Kapralik. Of course we had never laid eyes on her, but people said she gave Italian lessons. In any event, beyond our associations with capers and capricious—expressions our father liked to use in reference to us—her name called to mind a fun-loving woman from Capri. A similar wealth of associations opened up when a chance to overlap in pronunciation created by the miracle of fused meanings; for instance, when we heard the newly experienced word ektase—ecstasy—in the name of Năstase, which right away seemed to capture this young man’s tango-like essence.”

Von Rezzori does not condescend a child’s point of view with a child-like vocabulary, but rather uses his rather extensive supply of words with a precision and an ingenuity of combination that, stunningly, do not give a sense of some overly precious precocity but instead imbues in the reader with that sense of wonder and of first understanding that children experience but do not have power to express.

Perhaps the central figure in the text, as the object of the children’s greatest affection and curiosity is the Austrian officer Major Tildy, who they fall in love with immediately, without knowing almost anything about him. They spend the majority of the novel trying to hear more and more about him, as he defends the honor of his sister-in-law, a promiscuous woman from a wealthy family possessing a recognizable nose, and finds himself put away in a mental institution. Such is their infatuation that when they hear he is part German they spend an incredible amount of time speculating on the nature of Germans, and on the beauty of war. For them there is no such thing as a just war—there is just war. They understand the question only in terms of existence. When they are forced to grapple with their observations of Jewish discrimination within Czernopol, which culminates with a great riot in the streets, they understand not “that Jews are also people, but rather the reverse, that people are sometimes also Jews.” And so on, go the discoveries of this group of siblings, the unnoticed eavesdroppers in a city full of both turmoil and laughter.

For children find themselves in the unique position of alterity which still allows them access into realms of privileged knowledge, as it were, because they are not expected to understand the information that passes before their very eyes and ears. Von Rezzori seizes upon this privilege of youth and puts together an exquisitely recounted tale of childhood that contains not only the excitement and wonder of discovery, but also the cutting commentary and revelation that accompany such discovery when precisely expressed.

28 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next focus on Gregor Von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, we dug up this interview with Von Rezzori that appeared in BOMB magazine way back in 1988.

Bruce Wolmer: I’m tempted to begin by asking the question interviewers on French TV like to pose: “Gregor von Rezzori, _qui êtes-vous?_”—Who are you? Which is immediately funny considering that the enigmas and paradoxes—and humor—of identity is a central concern of your work. But one wouldn’t know that reading the reviews, where you’re almost inevitably conflated with the first-person narrator.

Gregor von Rezzori: Absolutely. This is such an old discussion: To what extent are books autobiographic? It’s ridiculous. As Flaubert famously said, Mme. Bovary c’est moi. You can’t eliminate yourself totally unless you’re Shakespeare.

BW: That goes against the grain of much contemporary opinion and practice, which claims to be getting down to the truth of the author rather than the truth of the fiction.

GvR: The Death of My Brother Abel is narrated by a writer. The narrator, the “I”—and funnily enough he is less my own person than any other first person in any of my other books—the narrator in The Death of My Brother Abel is a totally fictitious character. But, of course, nowadays people have little curiosity about examining such complexities. There is this desire of authenticity and transparency which connects with the curious contemporary belief that everybody is, or should be, an artist.

I must tell you that when I was young I never had the faintest idea that I should ever become a writer. I studied mining engineering, of all things. I came to writing by accident at a rather ripe age. I never thought of really having the urge to express myself, but obviously I had it in some way or other. But without ever having heard the phrase, I had to find my identity. That’s one of those dreadful verbal expressions. A phrase like that becomes fashionable and then becomes a slogan and becomes really a program for people’s lives. Every young man or girl nowadays ponders about his or her identity without even realizing what it is. My identity is “I”. It takes a long time to learn that that much celebrated “I” is never lost, but never really found either.

Anyway, in my case I was having a period in my life in which I didn’t have anything else to do—this was before the war—so one day I sat down and wrote a story. Somebody got hold of it and sent it to a publisher. They instantly wanted me to write another one, which I did. Because I thought, my God, this is a very agreeable way of earning money. How wrong I was I found out later. But by then it was too late.

BW: A disagreeable way of not earning much money.

GvR: Yes, yes. Somebody with a little bit more intelligence doing the same amount of work, you’ll become an Onassis. Well, who needs that? But it’s in real disproportion. Then when I realized what crap I had been writing, you see, I sat down, and just then the war came. I was fortunate—I didn’t actually have to be a soldier exactly. I was born in Bukovina, Rumania. Before Rumania went into the war it was given to the Russians so I was already more or less a Russian although I still had a Rumanian passport and was living in Vienna at that time. When Bohemia was taken by the Russians I went to our ambassador in Berlin, who was a friend of the family, and I said, “What shall I do, what am I supposed to do?” He said, “Well, you are supposed to go home and find a new identity because you don’t exist. And then you’ll die from Mr. Hitler because within a short time you shall have to join in those struggles. I can’t prolong your passport. How long is it still valid?” I said. “For a year.” He said, “Keep quiet.” Which I did. It lasted for three more years during the war. I had my share of bombing and all that, but in the meantime I had the opportunity to really fill the unbelievable gaps in my knowledge by reading. I must tell you that I read very slowly and I need months to finish a real masterpiece, for example one of Broch’s novels. [. . .]

BW: What has been Nabokov’s influence on you?

GvR: Well, there were many other influences first. I didn’t read Nabokov until late. But when I had started to write Abel in its first version, I got Nabokov’s Pale Fire in my hand and instantly put my pen down because I found that there was the book I wanted to write already in the best possible form. Then I collaborated on the translation of Lolita into German, and I became aware that I shall never achieve the almost medieval craft of Nabokov’s to link fiction with literary allusion and write a book on many layers—of which one is a direct and fictitiously concrete reality, and behind there is the other reality, the literary reality of all the allusions, all the relations of literature with other literature. At the same time that it’s discouraging, it’s very challenging.

BW: Other influences?

GvR: Everything influences you as a writer, whatever you read. I believe there isn’t any such thing as a bad book, because you take out of any book something by which you learn, even if you throw it away. Then there are writers who encourage me immensely and writers whom I admire so much that I put down my pen and say, “I can’t write.” For instance, I can’t read ten lines of Robert Musil and keep on writing, I stop for a week at least. Even Joyce. He discourages me totally. But then there are others who encourage me. Thomas Mann with his sort of schoolboyish sense of humor challenges me to get a little subtler. Ironic. And so on.

BW: Cèline?

GvR: Well, yes. Not consciously, but the violence. In literature, particularly at that period, a certain barbarism is necessary. Also for the sake of honesty. You can’t be suave and God knows what in a time like ours. Also there is in him an urge for iconoclastic action which was also very much an aspect of German Expressionism after the First World War.

You can read the entire interview here.

25 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next selection is The Ermine of Czernopol, the first in a trilogy of semi-autobiographical works by Gregor von Rezzori (The Snows of Yesteryear, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite), all of which are available from New York Review Books.

We chose this book because of its unique and revealing perspective: von Rezzori works through the recollections of the eyes and ears of a group of children, using “we” almost exclusively, and it is through these children’s growing understanding and point-of-view that von Rezzori uses his power of description and imitation bring to life the discovery of a city and the entanglements of its citizens. Von Rezzori’s extensive vocabulary does not spare his young subjects, and so the reader has the pleasure and the advantage of innocent fascination without the language of innocence.

Much of the narrative centers on the children’s obsession with Major Tildy, an Austrian officer whose extreme attention to propriety and honor and extreme guard against losing face prove very costly. And the city discovered, the city of Czernopol, is diverse to say the least, with the characters featured in this story proving themselves extremely peculiar, whether or not through the hyperbole of childhood. A stint in a mental institution, an acclaimed locksmith poet, a tutor who shuns socks, and a production of The Nutcracker ballet all feature in this insightfully and incisively written book, where children are not spared anything.

This week we will have a full review and an interview with the translator Philip Boehm. Read the extended excerpt to begin your introduction to the city of Czernopol and its peculiar sense of humor.

22 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

To finish off this week’s Read This Next feature on Alberto Moravia’s Two Friends, here’s an interview from the Paris Review with the man himself:

Interviewer: You write, then—?

Moravia: I write simply to amuse myself; I write to entertain others and—and, well, to express myself. One has one’s own way of expressing oneself, and writing happens to be mine.

Interviewer: By that, you do not consider yourself a moralist, do you?

Moravia: No, I most emphatically do not. Truth and beauty are educatory in themselves. The very fact of representing the left wing, or a “wing” of any sort, implies a partisan position and nonobjectivity. For that reason, one is impotent to criticize in a valid sense. Social criticism must necessarily, and always, be an extremely superficial thing. But don’t misunderstand me. Writers, like all artists, are concerned with representing reality, to create a more absolute and complete reality than reality itself. They must, if they are to accomplish this, assume a moral position, a clearly conceived political, social, and philosophical attitude; in consequence, their beliefs are, of course, going to find their way into their work. What artists believe, however, is of secondary importance, ancillary to the work itself. A writer survives in spite of his beliefs. Lawrence will be read whatever one thinks of his notions on sex. Dante is read in the Soviet Union.

A work of art, on the other hand, has a representative and expressive function. In this representation the author’s ideas, his judgments, the author himself, are engaged with reality. Criticism, thus, is no more than a part, an aspect—a minor aspect—of the whole. I suppose, putting it this way, I am, after all, a moralist to some degree. We all are. You know, sometimes you wake up in the morning in revolt against everything. Nothing seems right. And for that day or so, at least until you get over it, you’re a moralist. Put it this way: every man is a moralist in his own fashion, but he is many other things besides. [. . .]

Interviewer: How do you account for the big empty spaces in the novel tradition of Italy? Could you tell us a little about the novel in Italy?

Moravia: That’s a pretty large question, isn’t it? But I’ll try to answer. I think one could say that Italy has had the novel, way back. When the bourgeois was really bourgeois, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, narrative was fully developed (remember that all that painting was narrative too) but since the Counter-Reformation, Italian society doesn’t like to look at itself in a mirror. The main bulk of narrative literature is, after all, criticism in one form or another. In Italy when they say something is beautiful that’s the last word: Italians prefer beauty to truth. The art of the novel, too, is connected with the growth and development of the European bourgeoisie. Italy hasn’t yet achieved a modern bourgeoisie. Italy is really a very old country; in some ways it looks new because it’s so old. Culturally, now, it follows the rest of Europe: does what the others do, but later. Another thing—in our literary history, there are great writers—titans—but no middle-sized ones. Petrarch wrote in the fourteenth century, then for four centuries everybody imitated him. Boccaccio completely exhausted the possibilities of the Italian short story in the fourteenth century. Our golden centuries were then, our literary language existed then, had crystallized. England and France had their golden centuries much later. Take, for example, Dante. Dante wrote a pure Italian, is still perfectly understandable. But his contemporary Chaucer wrote in a developing tongue: today he must be practically translated for the modern reader. That’s why most modern Italian writers are not very Italian, and must look abroad for their masters: because their tradition is so far back there, is really medieval. In the last ten years, they’ve looked to America for their masters.

Click here to read the full interview.

21 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next feature on Alberto Moravia’s Two Friends, we just posted an interview with translator Marina Harss conducted by U of R translation grad student (and fellow soccer fan) Acacia O’Connor.

Here’s an excerpt:

Acacia O’Connor: Two Friends is a unique text — it’s different segments of unfinished works by the great Italian writer Alberto Moravia, rather than an even nearly complete novel manuscript — how do these different segments work together in your mind? What sorts of challenges did this text, which at times misses segments etc., present to you as a translator?

Marina Harss: I think the challenge for me was the “unfinished” quality, sorting out the repetitions in the texts, dealing with spots where I knew that Moravia would have cleaned things up. How to be respectful to Moravia while also being completely faithful to the text. Also, I found that in dealing with three unfinished texts, it was more difficult to “get into the flow” and really get to know the characters, their past and their future. [. . .]

AO: What do you think Moravia, or any author like him really, would feel or think about having these manuscripts published? And translated into English?

MH: Honestly, I think he would probably be horrified. He burned his early drafts, and these only survived because they were in a pile of papers that was misplaced during a move. Clearly, he didn’t feel the book worked, since he abandoned it to write Il Disprezzo. But people who are interested in (and love) Moravia will get something out of these fragments, and in that sense it is a tribute to the writer.

Be sure and read the full interview, and tomorrow we’ll post Acacia’s review.

OK, I’m out. Our air conditioning shut down around noon today, so it’s approximately 135 degrees in my office and my brain is melting.

20 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Two Friends by Alberto Moravia, a posthumously published set of related novellas that’s translated from the Italian by Marina Harss and forthcoming from Other Press.

The extended preview is available now and we’ll be posting a review and interview later this week.

I remember hearing about this when it came out in Italy and being very intrigued. As mentioned in the description below, these three novellas all start from a similar premise, but are completely different in execution and tone. Even though I don’t think it was intended as such, it’s an interesting experiment that shows off Moravia’s range and development as a writer.

Here’s the description from Other Press:

In this set of novellas, a few facts are constant. Sergio is a young intellectual, poor and proud of his new membership in the Communist Party. Maurizio is handsome, rich, successful with women, and morally ambiguous. Sergio’s young, sensual lover becomes collateral damage in the struggle between these two men. All three of these unfinished stories, found packed in a suitcase after Alberto Moravia’s death, share this narrative premise. But from there, each story unfolds in a unique way. The first patiently explores the slow unfurling of Sergio’s resentment toward Maurizio. The second reveals the calculated bargain Maurizio offers in exchange for his conversion to Sergio’s beloved Communism. And the third switches dramatically to the first person, laying bare Sergio’s conflicted soul.

Anyone interested in literature will relish the opportunity to watch Moravia at work, tinkering with his story and working at it from three unique perspectives.

Click here to read the preview online, and check back later for the interview and other additional materials.

11 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In case you missed it, last Friday, as part of the RTN feature on Tulli’s In Red, we posted this interview with Polish translator Bill Johnston.

Here’s the opening:

Lily Ye: I should start off by saying that I’m not actually that familiar with the other works of Tulli, so I wanted to ask you where you thought In Red fell in her progress as an author, since I know you said that Dreams and Stones was more of a prose-poem, and then later on she moves into a more narrative structure, so where do you think In Red falls?

Bill Johnston: In Red is actually [her second novel], Dreams and Stones was the first and then there was In Red, and then the novel which is called, in English, Moving Parts, and then Flaw is the last one. Tulli and I actually disagree about Dreams and Stones. She still calls it a novel, and I tend to think of it as a prose poem, and you know, I think that would be an interesting argument or discussion in terms of genre. I think for me, a book which doesn’t really have any characters, like human characters, is hard to describe as a novel, it’s a book of ideas—I’m talking about Dreams and Stones—and it has a kind of a story arc which is kind of what she, I would imagine, is what she was thinking about when she described it as a novel. I mean, it also has a fundamental underlying conflict like you find in novels, or particularly dramatic works, but in Dreams and Stones it’s much more to do with the conflict of metaphors, is the city like a tree or is it like a machine? But it’s still very far from anything that we would think of in normal parlance as a novel.

I think with In Red she starts to adapt more elements from traditional novels, and do very interesting and very original things with them, but still we have people, we have people who say things, we have conversations, we have a plot, we have a setting, we have you know a lot of the traditional elements that even today are in most novels, in most books that are called novels. So In Red is kind of the first time that she does that, she has something we might call dialogue, she has these characters, she has a plot and so on. I think her third book, Moving Parts, is a little atypical. That’s the one that most people refer to when they talk about meta-fiction, which was one of your questions that we can talk about in a moment. That’s a book which is very difficult very complex, and I think in a sense she returns to the narrative formats in Flaw, and Flaw is the first of her books that has like a single story arc, that begins on the first page and ends on the last, over the course of a single day, but a lot happens there and you have some kind of unity of plot and place, and time and so on. I mean I guess one could argue that it almost plays out more like a Greek tragedy rather than any sort of novelistic piece. All of her books are really short, many people might consider them more novella length, but definitely Flaw has this single story, the feel of a novella or short novel, In Red is still sort of groping toward that.

You can see In Red has an interesting structure, it’s in three parts, and in each of the parts the central town of the, the setting is somehow different, in one it’s very cold in the other it’s very tropical and so you got these three almost sort of self-contained different takes on what goes on there, but they’re also related in terms of time, and there is an overall time arc that takes us through maybe through the, I don’t what it’s supposed to be, maybe the first half of the twentieth century or something like that. And not characters but relations between characters whether it’s master and servant or fathers and children and relations, they pass from one part of the book to another, so it’s a book which does have an overall unity of structure and has many more of the elements which one would think of as a novel.

I’ve been reading Proust recently, and I see strong echoes of that kind of writing in what she’s doing and obviously what she’s doing in In Red is not imitating the great realist and modernist novels, but she’s taking a lot of elements from them in order to, in a sense, highlight the unusualness of her own writing. But there are scenes, you in the scene where Natalie Zugoff kind of flounces off the train station expecting all the men around to pick up all of her, what is it, 15 suitcases and so on. That’s straight out of Proust, that scene. Clearly in terms of realism and in terms of the authorial voice she’s very different from those writers, she’s very much a writer of the early 21st century, it’s just interesting to see her folding in those more traditional elements, to point out what’s unusual.

Click here to read the full thing.

5 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next book is In Red by Magdalena Tulli, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston, and coming out from Archipelago Books in September.

In Red is the fourth Tulli book to come out from Archipelago, following on Dreams and Stones, Flaw, and Moving Parts. The jacket copy from their site isn’t overly informative, but does provide a bit of an outline:

In this latest groundbreaking novel, Magdalena Tulli creates a world that is unreal, yet strangely familiar and utterly convincing. Set in a mythical fourth partition of Poland, In Red is full of dreamlike descriptions of the town and its inhabitants; its power lies in Tulli’s evocative, almost hallucinatory use of language.

Here’s a bit from the introduction Lily Ye wrote for the RTN site:

Miniature in size, and coming in at less than 160 half-sized pages, In Red should not be overlooked. We chose this book precisely for the compact strength Tulli employs in activating language and her enthralling power to quickly induce a vision of a truly fantastic world. This translation by Bill Johnston showcases Tulli’s mastery of metaphor and the measured control of her prose.

This book marks the beginning of Tulli’s transition into a more narrative style of writing. Her first book Dreams and Stones, which won Poland’s Koscielski award for promising writers under 40, has been described by Johnston, her primary translator, as more of a prose poem than a novel. Her latest work, Flaw, already shows her developing a more linear narrative. In Red strikes somewhere in between the two, making for a delightfully surprising read throughout.

Click here to read an extended preview of In Red. And we’ll be posting an interview with Bill Johnston tomorrow, and an full review of the book on Friday.

1 July 11 | Chad W. Post |

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece I wrote about Julio Cortazar’s From the Observatory, which is translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean and forthcoming from Archipelago Books. It also happens to be this week’s Read This Next title.

Here’s the opening of the review:

It’s not like any of Cortazar’s books are easy. Hopscotch is a tricky book, even putting aside the jarring juxtapositions that arise from the strange way of reading it (if you follow the prescribed path, you read a bunch of chapters out of order). 62: A Model Kit, which applied the theory explicated in chapter 62 of Hopscotch, opens with a preface warning that “not a few readers will notice various transgressions of literary convention here.” Some of the ideas in his short stories are mind-blowing in a consciousness-raising, you-must-be-high sort of way.

But in my opinion, From the Observatory is the most challenging of all his books that I’ve read. In part, this is due to my own blindspot when it comes to poetry and poetic writing; in part, this is due to the elusive mingling of images and ideas present in this short, dense text.

In the interview I conducted earlier this week with Anne McLean, we talked a bit about the “Julio Cortazar” that Archipelago has been constructing through the publication of From the Observatory, The Diary of Andres Fava, and Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. In contrast to the Big Ideas and novelistic pyrotechnics found in the “classic” novels, these three books are quieter, and more personal. And in a way, they seem more focused on producing beautiful individual lines, than wowing the world with grand philosophical ideas.

That’s not to say that From the Observatory isn’t philosophical or removed from Cortazar’s earlier interests. Science and scientific metaphors run throughout Cortazar’s work, and are foregrounded in this piece, which intertwines information about the life cycle of eels from an article by Claude Lamotte that appeared in Le Monde with photographs and information about Jai Singh’s observatories.

You can read the complete piece here.

1 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s not like any of Cortazar’s books are easy. Hopscotch is a tricky book, even putting aside the jarring juxtapositions that arise from the strange way of reading it (if you follow the prescribed path, you read a bunch of chapters out of order). 62: A Model Kit, which applied the theory explicated in chapter 62 of Hopscotch, opens with a preface warning that “not a few readers will notice various transgressions of literary convention here.” Some of the ideas in his short stories are mind-blowing in a consciousness-raising, you-must-be-high sort of way.

But in my opinion, From the Observatory is the most challenging of all his books that I’ve read. In part, this is due to my own blindspot when it comes to poetry and poetic writing; in part, this is due to the elusive mingling of images and ideas present in this short, dense text.

In the interview I conducted earlier this week with Anne McLean, we talked a bit about the “Julio Cortazar” that Archipelago has been constructing through the publication of From the Observatory, The Diary of Andres Fava, and Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. In contrast to the Big Ideas and novelistic pyrotechnics found in the “classic” novels, these three books are quieter, and more personal. And in a way, they seem more focused on producing beautiful individual lines, than wowing the world with grand philosophical ideas.

That’s not to say that From the Observatory isn’t philosophical or removed from Cortazar’s earlier interests. Science and scientific metaphors run throughout Cortazar’s work, and are foregrounded in this piece, which intertwines information about the life cycle of eels from an article by Claude Lamotte that appeared in Le Monde with photographs and information about Jai Singh’s observatories.

The photographs of Jai Singh’s observatories are one of the most strikingly beautiful things about this book, and by themselves are worth the price of admission. Jai Singh was the ruler of Amber (later Jaipur) in the early 1700s and amid all sorts of political and social issues, he built at least five observatories. Using Hindu astronomy, these observatories were used to predict eclipses, etc. That’s interesting in and of itself, but beyond practicality, these structures are stunningly intricate and a bit mesmerizing. (Some photos from the book are available here, but you can also see a slew of color photos via this Google search.)

Cortazar took the 36 photos included in the book back in 1968, and they very much reflect the elliptical, baroque play found in the prose itself:

Everything corresponds, Jai Singh and Baudelaire thought with a century’s interval, from the lookout of the tallest tower of the observatory the sultan must have sought the system, the network in code that would give him the keys of contact: how could he not have known that the animal Earth would suffocate in a slow stillness if it had not always been in the lungs of the astral steel, the sneaky traction of the moon and the sun drawing and repelling the green breast of the waters. [. . .] Every sign of measurement on the marble ramps of Jaipur received (still receives, for no one now, for monkeys and tourists) the Morse signs, the sidereal alphabet that in another dimension of the sensitive turns into plankton, trade winds, shipwreck of the California oil tanker Norman (May 8, 1957), blossoming of cherry trees in Naga or Sivergues, lava in Osorno, eels arriving in port, leptocephali having grown to eight centimeters in three years will not know that their entry into fresher waters sets off some mechanism of the thyroid, will not know they’re now starting to be called elvers, that new calming words accompany the serpent’s storming of the reefs, its advance up the estuaries, its irrepressible invasion of the rivers; all this that has no name is called by so many names, the way Jai Singh swapped twinkles for formulae, unfathomable orbits for conceivable times.

This is pretty representative of the prose in From the Observatory: winding, digressive, soaring, playful, and looping back on itself like a Mobius Strip. As Anne McLean said in the interview, “Hey, you know, it was the still practically the sixties.”

29 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next feature on Julio Cortazar’s From the Observatory, we just posted an interview with translator Anne McLean about this book, Cortazar in general, and the other authors she’s worked on.

You can read the whole piece here, and here’s a short excerpt:

CWP: As a long time fan of Corátzar (especially the “big” books—Hopscotch, Blow Up, 62: A Model Kit), I’ve been pleasantly surprised and thrilled by the Corátzar books Archipelago has “unearthed.” In my opinion, these really add to the Corátzar mythos . . . From the Observatory isn’t Hopscotch, Part II. It’s still obviously Corátzar, but a more poetic, almost reflective Corátzar. What’s is it like for you to be responsible for bringing this “other Corátzar” into English?

AM: It’s thrilling for me, and also very daunting (as with any seriously good writing, really, when you’re translating it you spend half the time thinking: oh, I can’t wait for people to be able to read this in English, and the other half wondering how on earth you can ever possibly recreate the wonderfulness of the original). But there are many, many “other Cortázars”; there were lots and lots of different Julios inside that one giant of a writer. Many of them were at play and in action in Hopscotch, for example. But you’re right, of course, From the Observatory does come from Cortázar’s reflective, poetic, philosophical side.

CWP: The lyrical nature of this book mixed with the striking images of Jai Singh’s observatories creates a really stunning work, but one that’s hard (for me) to get a handle on. How would you describe From the Observatory to a casual reader?

AM: If forced to describe From the Observatory, I would probably describe it as indescribable, but I guess that wouldn’t help much.

It’s a prose poem about the life cycle of Atlantic eels and about an early eighteenth-century Indian astronomer-prince and his (imagined) observations of the night sky and about science and its fascinations and limitations and poetry and its possibilities and about opening up to life and love and about challenging ourselves and changing the world.

Hey, you know, it was the still practically the sixties.

Click here for the whole conversation.

27 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next book is From the Observatory by Julio Cortazar. Wonderfully translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, this will be available from Archipelago Books in early August.

In the words of Complete Review’s Michael Orthofer, this book is “striking, odd,” which is just about right. (You can read his full review here.) It’s a very poetic piece built around the life-cycle of eels and the Jaipur observatory.

Speaking of Jaipur, a cool feature of this gorgeous little book are all of the photographs of the observatories built by Jai Singh II. From Wikipedia:

In 1719, he was witness to a noisy discussion in the court of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangeela. The heated debate regarded how to make astronomical calculations to determine an auspicious date when the emperor could start a journey. This discussion led Jai Singh to think that the nation needed to be educated on the subject of astronomy. It is surprising that in the midst of local wars, foreign invasions, and consequent turmoil, Sawai Jai Singh found time and energy to build astronomical observatories.

No less than five massive structures were built at Delhi, Mathura (in his Agra province), Benares, Ujjain (capital of his Malwa province), and his own capital of Jaipur. In all of these only the one at Jaipur is working. Relying primarily on Hindu astronomy, these buildings were used to accurately predict eclipses and other astronomical events. The observational techniques and instruments used in his observatories were also superior to those used by the European Jesuit astronomers he invited to his observatories. Termed as the Jantar Mantar they consisted of the Ram Yantra (a cylindrical building with an open top and a pillar in its center), the Jai Prakash (a concave hemisphere), the Samrat Yantra (a huge equinoctial dial), the Digamsha Yantra (a pillar surrounded by two circular walls), and the Narivalaya Yantra (a cylindrical dial).

Jai Singh’s greatest achievement was the construction of Jaipur city (known originally as Jainagara (in Sanskrit, as the ‘city of victory’ and later as the ‘pink city’ by the British by the early 20th century), the planned city, later became the capital as the Indian state of Rajasthan. Construction of the new capital began as early as 1725 although it was in 1727 that the foundation stone was ceremonially laid, and by 1733 Jaipur officially replaced Amber as capital of the Kachawahas. Built on the ancient Hindu grid pattern, found in the archaeological ruins of 3000 BCE, it was designed by the Brahmin Vidyadhar who was educated in the ancient Sanskrit manuals (silpa-sutras) on city-planning and architecture. Merchants from all over India settled down in the relative safety of this rich city, protected by thick walls, and a garrison of 17,000 supported by adequate artillery.

For a full-color look at the Jaipur Observatory, you can click here, otherwise, I highly recommend checking out the preview, both for the pictures and Cortazar’s prose.

22 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following up on yesterday’s post about the conversation between Sergio Chejfec and Margaret Carson about My Two Worlds, this week’s Read This Next book, today we just posted an interview originally published by the Fric-Frac Club, and translated from the French by Christie Craig. You can read the complete English version here and to give you a taste, below is an interesting excerpt:

Fric-Frac Club: What will you do when people stop reading books?

Sergio Chejfec: Hard to say, especially because I think I live in that time. People are always on the brink of stopping reading, but what withal, they do go on reading. So to say, there are books that get read. Many titles or a few, each so in its own measure or not : but they do get read. And still, I have the impression that there are a great many more books without readers. Titles forgotten, authors forgotten or else unknown, and so on. It’s as if reading sustains itself precisely by ‘non-reading’, as if it needed ‘non-reading’ to cast its own silhouette and to go on choosing books to rescue or discard. This is why I don’t suppose I’d go about things very differently than I do already, if the whole world stopped reading. I think I’d only react by a change of emphasis: when everyone has stopped reading and when that day comes as premised by the question, just as well, the time to begin to read will have come.

FFC: First literary memory (or emotion)?

SC: My first literary emotion is of a private and defeated sort. I was a very and consistently bored child (I think this was a common thing for my generation, at least it’s what I’ve got to think). One day, it occurred to me to send a fictitious postcard to my mother : it would be written by a sister she had never heard of, who would announce therein that she had numerous revelations to disclose : a dark and scandalous family past, a very sad past, and so on, a real melodrama. In order that the story seem truer, I had to send the card from another country: Paraguay. During my childhood, Paraguay had been for me an exotic country (it was by way of Paraguay that my parents had come secretly into Argentina, after the Second World War). The text was written and I was ready to go buy the postcard at the corner bookstore, on which to to copy it out. But once there, I realized that they didn’t sell postcards for Paraguay, and more problematically even, that I could not send a card from Paraguay! These obstacles proved insurmountable, I had to resign myself finally to the plan’s failure.

I don’t know if there’s some lesson to be taken from this story, or whether to consider it a major defeat. I think that today I would not assign so much importance to details, which seemed so essential then to the making of a credible story. But it was the first time I wrote a fiction and I still remember my anxiety on the walk to the bookstore, in search of a postcard for Asunción del Paraguay.

FFC: What are you reading at the moment?

SC: At the moment, I’m reading a good many of Adalbert Stifter’s novels. Just one after another. They’re very strange novels, simple plotting, with perfectly archetypal characters, practically fairytales even. But the landscape within which the stories develop (almost always a natural landscape, whose depiction occupies nearly the entire narrative) is described in such meticulous detail that it becomes completely anti-bucolic, counter to the author’s apparent interest in the bucolic. It’s just this stupendous attempt at converting natural landscape into a kind of artificial copy of the natural.

Read the entire conversation here.

21 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next focus on Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson), we’re going to be running two interviews with Chejfec. Up first is a conversation he had with Margaret Carson about My Two Worlds. This is a great intro to the book, it’s origins, and what makes this novel so interesting.

Margaret Carson: I’ve heard the novel described as the story of a man visiting an unnamed city in Brazil who walks to a park and wanders around its interior. It’s that, but it’s also so much more. If someone asked you what My Two Worlds was about, what would you say?

Sergio Chejfec: I don’t think there’s much more to add. I would say that the walk itself allows this character to have thoughts related to his past and his milieu (social, historical, cultural, etc.), and that as he keeps walking, he recovers experiences related to themes such as one’s heritage, city landscapes, urban conditions in the Third World, the Holocaust, representations of nature, etc. But the truth is, I’m uneasy with these kinds of lists because I don’t believe they describe what in my mind is essential: the story wants to depict the development of a thought, and the main character finds excuses or reasons in what he sees to become reflective. But he’s also aware that he lacks strong opinions, and that it’s hard for him to arrive at any definitive conclusions. I’d say the novel is an attempt to navigate through interconnected episodes, stories in miniature, small in scale. It’s as if these scenes were simplified to the extreme, like cells of possible scenes that weren’t developed.

MC: Could you talk about how you began work on the novel? Did you start with a certain idea or plan? How did the novel evolve?

SC: I don’t have much faith in linear stories. My novels don’t move ahead because a crisis or enigma has been resolved, or because of a more or less conventional development of a drama or action. Since I don’t tell “stories,” my novels are planned differently. They start with simple situations (in this case, for example, a walk through an unknown park) and they narrate a sequence of events that occur within that frame. The idea behind My Two Worlds was to write an essay about turning fifty. As I say at the beginning, two books by writer friends had come out, both dealing with this theme, but with different results. And I wanted to “fight” a bit with them. I wanted to offer my version of turning fifty, and then devote myself to discussing their books and how they talked about their fifty years. But in the end that plan came to nothing, because I began to think it was enough to offer my version, or maybe because after I’d done that, I no longer wanted to mark my differences with them, since they were obvious. And something else is essential: from the outset I conceived of this novel as reflexive, or essayistic. It’s a fairly habitual characteristic in my books.

You can read the complete interview at the Read This Next site.

20 June 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This week’s Read This Next selection is My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec, an Argentinian author who currently resides in NYC. My Two Worlds is his first book to be translated into English (it’s on sale in August, published by us), although it’s his most recent work, which is, mysteriously, how things tend to work in translation—I’m the editor of this book, and I’m not even sure why it works that way.

So, rather than tell you why we chose this book for RTN, I suppose it might be more interesting to talk about why Open Letter chose to publish Chejfec, or since I don’t really remember anymore why, specifically, we signed on Chejfec (so far, we’ve signed him for three books, My Two Worlds, The Planets, and The Dark), at least say a few words about why his work appeals to me, and for that I’m going to start backwards, in an awkward place, the place where you reveal things about an author that make him sound difficult, or not salable, and then move away from that toward something slightly less awkward, to the place where potential readers might be found.

The awkward place, then: Sergio Chejfec is a writers’ writer. When I show Spanish-language writers our catalog, or talk about our new or upcoming books, they inevitably stop me at Chejfec’s name—and by they I mean a handful of writers, and by inevitably I mean each member of this handful; that is, they, inevitably; but, to be fair about my confessional fairness, this small sample is a distinguished one—and say something like, “I adore Chejfec.”

Well, what does that mean then, that people who practice at a high level have this sort admiration for one of their fellows? In this case, I think, it means that he does something with his writing that seems magical to them, magical even to people who are familiar with all the tricks and who are themselves in the process of mastering them. For example, and here I hope we’re starting to move toward the less awkward place, but slowly: My Two Worlds, Chejfec’s most recent book, the representative sample of everything he has learned to this moment in his writing life, is a one-hundred-page novel about a walk in a park.

Now, I’m a fan of the ‘walk in a park’ genre of novels (why shouldn’t the walk in the park be a genre?). My favorite is Moo Pak by Gabriel Josipovici, but Chejfec outdoes even Josipovici in his boldness. Rather than a series of conversations that take place over several days at the same park, as in Moo Pak, My Two Worlds is about a single walk, in a single park, on one day, and it takes place almost entirely in the head of its narrator. There are no other interlocutors, except us.

Well. I did say we’re moving slowly toward less awkward.

But what is magical about Chejfec is what he is able to do with this thinnest of threads. It’s what his narrator inhabits during this brief journey, how he imagines himself into the lives of those around him, the digressive reflections that this walk inspires in him—on writing, inheritance, travel, war, on pedal boats. It’s that he’s able to conjure a compelling narrative out of what is almost an anti-narrative—or anti-novel, as Enrique Vila-Matas calls it in his introduction. That he’s able to create this propulsive forward motion out of stasis, out of sitting on a park bench, and with such style, such beautiful style.

This near-magical ability of his is what drew us to Chejfec. And we hope you’ll go over to Read This Next to get a feel for what he’s capable of doing.

13 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Lightning by Jean Echenoz, a book that I truly love. Simply put, Echenoz’s charm + Tesla’s crazy genius = Incredibly Engaging Novel.

Over the rest of the week, we’ll be posting a few things about Echenoz’s general career (his noir books, his transitional period, the Eccentric Genius suite), along with an piece about an interview I did with translator Linda Coverdale, and a full length review of the book.

For now, check out the preview here, and here’s the short intro to the book:

Echenoz has had an interesting and diverse career as a writer. His first few books—_Cherokee_, Big Blondes, Double Jeopardy, Chopin’s Move_—are fun, noirish sort of novels. A few years back though, after _I’m Gone and Piano, Echenoz embarked on a “suite” of three books about historical figures: Ravel (about Maurice Ravel), Running (about Emil Zátopek), and Lightning (about Nikola Tesla).

These three novels may signal a sort of new direction in terms of what Echenoz is writing about, but all three are infused with the typical Echenoz voice. And it’s that signature voice that transforms the “Eccentric Genius Suite” from a series of biographies or historical works into charming novels that lucidly depict the quirky lives these people led.

Over the past few years, Tesla has sort of come back into the public eye, especially thanks to Samatha Hunt’s The Invention of Everything Else. The reasons for this resurgence of interest are varied, ranging from the general strangeness of his person and the movie-like quality of his life, to the way that Tesla was one of the last pure inventors—one who was destroyed by big business and his own inability to function in that world.

Lightning is a stunning novel that is captivating right from the start. In our advance preview, you can read about Gregor/Tesla’s birth, his early successes, his fall out with Edison (who always comes off as a bastard when you read about Tesla), and the start of the “War of Currents.”

10 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Contemporary Latin American literature in translation abounds with words of posthumous support from Roberto Bolaño, a blurber par excellence for a generation of writers only now being ushered into the Anglo-American canon, in some cases two decades after first being published.

The mild absurdity of this gold standard, against which the works of many of his contemporaries are set, is hardly lost on his friend Horacio Castellanos Moya, who wrote a 2009 article for Argentina’s La Nacion, “Bolaño Inc.,” that began: “I told myself I wasn’t going to write or say anything more about Roberto Bolaño.”

Bolaño, for his part, wrote, or perhaps said, one of the more salient and lingering points one could make about Castellanos Moya calling him: “The only writer of my generation who knows how to narrate the horror, the secret Vietnam that Latin America was for a long time.”

The praise, like most pithy promotional quotes, is perhaps an overstatement, but hardly an invalid one, as Castellanos Moya’s excellent new creation, Tyrant Memory makes clear.

Set over the course of one month in 1944, with a concluding chapter taking place twenty nine years later, the novel’s backdrop is the failed military coup against Salvadoran President Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, a sympathizer of European Fascism and casual mystic whose legacy of human rights abuses is frequently recounted by way of his assertion that it is better to kill a man than to kill an ant. The man will be reincarnated, the ant won’t.

The novel—which, it should be noted, is set during the nascent days of Latin America’s “secret Vietnam”—opens with the diary entries of Haydée, a housewife whose husband Pericles, a political journalist, has just been imprisoned for writing an article criticizing the government of Martinez, or as he is more commonly referred to throughout the novel, the Warlock. It is the eve of an anticipated coup and Haydée is certain that the impending fall of the Warlock will ensure her husband’s safe return. Instead the failed attempt on his life leaves her family in shambles, in large part to due her bumbling eldest son Clemens, who prematurely announces the Warlock’s death on national radio. Needless to say, Clemens is very soon public enemy number one.

The novel is built on two alternating narratives, moving from Haydée’s chatty diary entries to a far more streamlined, and slapstick, account of Clemens going into hiding. This pairing can read as a warped sort of he-said-she-said, whereby no one actually knows what anyone said. Both narratives are so thoroughly built upon hearsay, gossip and speculation that each serves as a highly adulterated, though hardly unfulfilling, accompaniment to the other.

Haydée, who remains in San Salvador after the failed coup, becomes active in organizing protests on behalf of the Committee of the Families of Political Prisoners. Together with several other women, the wives and mothers of prisoners, she participates in a thwarted street protest that ends with gunfire and becomes increasingly active in a clandestine network of citizens planning a general nationwide strike.

Clemens and his cousin Jimmy meanwhile are on the run from the National Guard, who have begun capturing and assassinating anyone complicit in the coup. Together the pair leaves the city shortly after Holy Week. Disguised as a priest and sacristan they make their way to the home of a man named Mono Harris, an American of unspecified profession who has access to airplanes, arms and a few leaked bits of military intelligence.

There are several American characters in Tyrant Memory, not least of which is Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who is known only by name, and his Yankee government and air force are popularly considered the only hope ending the Warlock’s tenure. Their presence in the region is taken for granted as a source of arms and military training and their influence on the Martinez administration, historically an easy proxy in efforts to staunch any semblance of communism in Central America, proves a vital source of life support.

Castellanos Moya is an especially adept writer of dialogue and stream of consciousness narration, and this skill is put to good use in Haydée’s diary entries as she recounts, if not quite the facts, then a certain colloquial spread of information and interpretation, for example rumors of U.S. intervention.

The day began with excellent news. Mingo dropped by the house to find out how Pericles is doing, and he took the opportunity to tell me that the Americans have already firmly turned their back on the general, yesterday the ambassador rejected the government’s proposal for the United States to send officers to reorganize the air forces, which was virtually dismantled after the attempted coup. “Such a rejection means they’ve lost all trust in the government,” Mingo explained to me with great excitement. I went straight to Father with the news. He told me he’d speak with Uncle Charlie to confirm. By noon everybody had heard that “the man” is being left out in the cold.

In the voice and words of Haydée, Castellanos Moya is able to nearly erase his presence as author. The narration is so casual it is almost audible, and revelatory in a manner that seems believably incidental, which, of course it is not. Castellanos Moya’s greatest triumph as a fiction writer is to recreate the daily ambiance of life at the margins of crisis. Though his novels often draw on political circumstance, they are not blindly or overtly concerned with the mechanics of politics.

Tyrant Memory is a novel about impression and interpretation, about the reading of an ambiguous reality, a reality that is distinctly Latin American, if one is inclined to heed Bolaño. Castellanos Moya’s fiction could be described as surreal, but only because reality is always so close but always unreadable: an eye test readers and characters likely fail before being told they need glasses they can’t afford.

This is an impressive affect for an author to replicate, and even more so to replicate more than once. Previous novels published in English by New Directions (Senselessness and The She-Devil in the Mirror) and Canada’s Biblioasis (Dance with Snakes) bear the distinction of narrators with untrustworthy relationships to discernable, factual life. Together the novels cover a territory that range from the lucid and disturbing—the mass murder of an indigenous population in Senselessness—to the truly bizarre—a transient’s sexual relationship with five talking female snakes in Dance with Snakes.

Castellanos Moya’s narrators share a removed position on the periphery of their respective social circumstances, which is pretty apt coming from a writer who has lived much of his adult life in exile. Haydée, as a woman, is excluded from the realm of politics that has consumed her family. Deeply aware of her loss, she is never quite certain of what that emptiness entails, as when a friend asks for news of Clemens.

She wanted to know if I had heard anything she hadn’t. I told her the men in my family and Pericles’s family share the opinion that life-and-death secrets should not be shared with women, so I was totally in the dark. I returned home even more unsettled, and still now, after writing down all the events of the day, anxiety is gnawing away at me inside, as if something important were happening right next to me without my being aware.

Haydée’s diary, for all its impressionistic qualities, is not always engaging. Which may in fact be further proof of Castellanos Moya’s skill as a ventriloquist as he guides us through the subtle development of his character. The entries begin with an intimate jumble of names, relations and social engagements, the details of which can be easily lost, and at perhaps little cost. But by the novel’s end Haydée’s involvement with political action has increased and become more deliberate, more compelling.

The sections devoted to Clemens and Jimmy are told at more of a distance as the dimwitted Clemens provokes the ire of his cousin. Their buffoonery—Clemens is always on the verge of messing everything up as he lets a love of booze and his libido get in the way of every near escape—is at times a welcome respite from the steady, and sometimes overwhelming, hum of Haydée’s note taking.

This mosquito-in-the-ear quality, annoying though it can become, is hardly without foresight or merit, because it ultimately proves a far more insightful impression of a period in El Salvador’s history, than the military men’s antics.

As the husband of one of Haydée’s friends puts it to her, government ministers are “afraid of what people will do to them if the general is toppled, so they send their wives out to spread rumors about them wanting to resign, but once they’re face-to-face with the Warlock they start shaking in their boots.”

The final chapter, which takes place during one day in 1973, is narrated by the husband of Haydée’s best friend, a man named Chelón who has until now been a peripheral but constant presence. It is worth noting that it is only here, in the last fifty pages of the novel, that the reader’s given a physical description of Haydée and told the full details of her life. Neither are especially remarkable, save for the fact that in the absence of these typically requisite details, Haydée has managed to become a fully formed character with her isolated voice alone.

Which makes it all the more disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, when Chelón dismisses Haydée as “a woman from a conservative family who doesn’t fully understand her husband’s decisions . . .” Fair enough, but this slight begs the question—to what extent does that matter when she is the one narrating the fallout?

Castellanos Moya can be a brilliant practitioner of edge of collapse, culling searing narratives of exile and estrangement. Tyrant Memory can be a tiring novel, and it is not always a lucid one, but these attributes may in fact be the greatest of its many achievements. Because inherent to the fog of tyranny is an opaque and exhausting search for information and answers, for the elusive logic behind fickle oppression. Readers are well served with Castellanos Moya as a guide.

9 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next activities, we just posted an interview with Horacio Castellanos Moya about Tyrant Memory:

Chad W. Post: How does Tyrant Memory compare to the other works of yours that have been translated into English? It seems to revolve around similar political themes.

Horacio Castellanos Moya: Tyrant Memory belongs to a group of novels that deal with members of the Aragon family. And indeed, through the personal and family problems of these characters, you can grasp some intense historical moments in Central America. This is the first of that group of novels that has been translated into English.

One difference between Tyrant Memory and the other three works of mine that have been translated into English is that most of Tyrant Memory doesn’t take place in contemporary El Salvador, but in April and May of 1944, when there was a failed military coup d’etat and then a successful general strike to put and end to a 12-year dictatorship. Politics is all around, of course, but you see it through the eyes of a conservative, catholic, 44-year old lady, and to be more precise, through her diary, where she writes down whatever happens to her since her husband was put in jail for being a journalist who supports the opposition. And this is another difference: the main characters of the other three novels are a little bit out of their minds, deeply affected by violence; in Tyrant Memory, Haydee (the main character) is ruled by common sense and strong moral principals.

CWP: “Ruled by common sense”? This seems like a sharp diversion from the (justifiably) paranoid narrator of Senselessness, or the crazed protagonist killer in Dance with Snakes, or even Laura Rivera from She-Devil. How did you like writing a (somewhat?) sane character?

HCM: It was a challenge. I had to dig deep in myself in order to grasp the mentality and the voices of those conservative, common-sensed ladies that I have met along my life. The challenge was to do it without bias, trying to see the world through their eyes. Once I got the voice, it demanded me a lot of control to keep it. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it.

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

7 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next focus on Tyrant Memory, here’s a link to the recording of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s appearance here in Rochester.

This took place last year, so it predates Tyrant Memory, but touches on some similar themes and is one of the best RTWCS events we’ve put on. (In my opinion.)

Enjoy, and check in tomorrow for a written interview with Horacio about the new book . . .

6 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following up on my last post, it’s a pleasure to announce that the first Read This Next selection is Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Tyrant Memory, which is translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver and available later this month from New Directions.

I’ve been a fan of Horacio’s ever since I read Senselessness, an absolutely stunning book about a man hired to edit a 1,100-page report of the atrocities committed by the military against the indigenous population. It’s haunting and beautiful and tight and paranoid. (See this review for more detailed info.)

Since that time, Biblioasis published his novel Dance with Snakes and New Directions did She-Devil in the Mirror. Although Senseless still stands supreme in my mind, both of those books are extremely interesting and cemented Horacio’s reputation as one of today’s most exciting and talented authors.

So when we decided to create Read This Next it seemed absolutely perfect to kick things off with Horacio’s new book, Tyrant Memory. This novel is a bit different than the others that have come out in English translation, mostly because it features three different narrators and styles. (The other three books are all first-person narratives.) It’s a “bigger” book in some senses, seeing that it deals with the coup and strike that lead to the overthrow of the Warlock, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in 1944.

Here’s New Direction’s jacket copy:

The tyrant of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s ambitious new novel is the actual pro-Nazi mystic Maximiliano Hernández Martínez — known as the Warlock — who came to power in El Salvador in 1932. An attempted coup in April, 1944, failed, but a general strike in May finally forced him out of office. Tyrant Memory takes place during the month between the coup and the strike. Its protagonist, Haydée Aragon, is a well-off woman, whose husband is a political prisoner and whose son, Clemente, after prematurely announcing the dictator’s death over national radio during the failed coup, is forced to flee when the very much alive Warlock starts to ruthlessly hunt down his enemies. The novel moves between Haydée’s political awakening in diary entries and Clemente’s frantic and often hysterically comic efforts to escape capture. Tyrant Memory — sharp, grotesque, moving, and often hilariously funny — is an unforgettable incarnation of a country’s history in the destiny of one family.

You can access the online preview of Tyrant Memory by clicking here, and you can purchase the book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, and Powell’s at those links.

Enjoy!

6 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As previewed on last week’s Three Percent podcast, today is the launch of Read This Next a new Three Percent project where we’ll be previewing a new work of international literature every week.

Read This Next is modeled in part on the “album previews” available through KCRW and NPR, and the belief that it’s possible to build buzz for forthcoming books. (Even ones that aren’t about vampires!)

So, each Monday we’ll post a lengthy preview of a book that’s due out in 2-4 weeks. You’ll be able to read the preview online, or print it out, or download a version for your phone/Kindle/ereader. We’ll also post an interview with the author/translator and a full length review so that readers have a few ways to enter into the featured title.

The main goal is to highlight some of the best works coming out—books that we’re excited about for one reason or another and hope others will get excited about as well. We have maybe 7 or 8 titles already lined up, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the selections, and hopefully won over by the excerpts.

We’ll be sure to mention all the Read This Next material on Three Percent, but the quickest and easiest way to access all the content is by visiting the Read This Next site every Monday.

We’re going to be tweaking this program over the next few weeks, so if you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at chad.post [at] rochester.edu.

....
Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >

I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

Read More >

Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

Read More >