28 November 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



Our second (and final!) Reading the World Conversation Series event of the fall is happening in just a few days. As always, it’s taking place in Rochester, NY. So, if you’re in the area, you’d better check it out—lest all your friends go without you and bond intimately over the great time they all had (true story).

Here are the rousing details:


Reading the World Conversation Series:
Sergio Chejfec & Margaret B. Carson

DECEMBER 1, 2011
Thursday, 6:00 p.m
Plutzik Library in Rare Books & Special Collections
Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester
(Free and open to the public.)

Sergio Chejfec is the author of a dozen books, three of which are coming out from Open Letter Books: My Two Worlds (available now), The Planets (2012), and The Dark (2013). Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas singled out My Two Worlds as one of the “best books of the year.” The English edition has been universally praised, with Publishers Weekly saying Margaret B. Carson’s “magnificent translation” should be “treated as a significant event.”

My Two Worlds is a novel about an author walking through a city in the South of Brazil. As he wanders, this unnamed narrator thinks about his walk, about his new book (which isn’t getting very good reviews), and about his life (his birthday is a few days away).

Chejfec and Carson will discuss this novel, literature, and the process of translation.

(Sponsored by The Dept. of Rare Books, Special Collections & Preservation)

Visit this event on Facebook
Or over at the Open Letter site

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

22 April 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



Our final Reading the World event of the spring is coming up next Wednesday, April 27, in Rochester. (This event is not to be confused, by the way, with another that we have scheduled quickly thereafter on May 2. That event is our contribution to the PEN World Voices Tour, and we’ll be posting all the info on that one forthwith . . .) This RTW spectacular will include Thomas Pletzinger—German author of Funeral for a Dog fame—and Ross Benjamin—the award-winning German-to-English translator of Funeral for a Dog. All the good details are below.


Reading the World Conversation Series:
Thomas Pletzinger & Ross Benjamin

APRIL 27, 2011
Wednesday, 6:00 p.m
Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
(Free and open to the public.
Free parking passes available at information booth.)

Thomas Pletzinger’s Funeral for a Dog received a great deal of praise when it was first released in Germany. It was compared to John Irving (for storytelling) and to Max Frisch (for sensibility and humor), and he even won the prestigious Uwe-Johnson Prize.

Soon thereafter, Pletzinger landed a deal with W.W. Norton to publish the English language edition, translated by award-winner Ross Benjamin. The novel has received attention for its global settings (Germany, Brazil, U.S., Italy), innovative structure, and mixture of intelligence and wit.

Pletzinger comes from a new generation of writers who are less concerned with writing about Germany’s past and whose interests and influences are more global. This reading and conversation will focus on this new generation of writers in Germany and what makes their writing so vibrant and unique on the current stage of world literature.

Visit this event on Facebook

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

11 April 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



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


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

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

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

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

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

Visit this event on Facebook.

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

15 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Saturday, and as always, I wish I could’ve been there. I was able to attend a few years back, and was really impressed by how many people were out browsing the stands, attending panels and readings, and generally getting excited about books. And from what I’ve heard the festival has grown every year since.

As covered in The Mantle, this year’s BKBF included a “Reading the World” panel featuring some of my favorite publishers and translators including Karen Emmerich, Susan Bernofsky, Ugly Duckling, and Zephyr. Here’s a clip from Shaun Randol’s write-up:

Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). (Note to participants: correct me if you see a mistake! There were no Cliffs Notes for what we were listening to on stage.) Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then . . . Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!? Ms. Emmerich, if you are reading this, please put the information in the comments section below!

Next up, Susan Bernofksy (Team New Directions), reading from German author Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation. I have nothing written down in my notebook here. This is what happens when the story is too absorbing—you neglect your reporter duties. A complete blank because my eyes were closed and I just listened to the pitter-patter of her voice as she conveyed one of a dozen stories taking place in a single house over generations in what must be an exceptionally intricate novel penned by Erpenbeck. The house is/was real (it belonged to Erpenbeck’s family), so how much of the story is as well? Ahhhh . . . German intrigue . . .

Sounds like a fun panel—one of many that took place. Ah well. Next year . . . There’s always next year . . .

Aside from bringing some attention to this fair/panel, it’s worth spending some time looking around The Mantle. Embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve come across the site, which is dedicated to providing “a forum for the next generation of leaders to be heard—a space for opinions that are different from those found in traditional, established outlets.” It’s an interesting publication, with a very international focus, and an intriguing book review section. Definitely worth checking out.

23 April 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments


For the sixth time in under three years, Chad has appeared on the preeminent local morning news show in Rochester, NY—clearly breaking/setting a record of some sort.

In today’s video, Chad’s talking about Open Letter hitting the three-year mark, and our celebration on Monday, April 26, (featuring 10 micro-readings from our books (as well as an after-party to which all are invited)) commemorating this, apparently inexplicable, achievement.

13 April 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments

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

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



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

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

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

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

25 March 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Our first Reading the World Conversation event was Monday, and it featured Helen Anderson & Konstantin Gurevich—the translators of our recently released edition of the Russian comedic classic The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov. Video of whole, engaging discussion will be posted soon, but, now, it’s time to look forward:

In a few short weeks, we’ll be be taking the stage, again, to talk with renown Latin American author Horacio Castellanos Moya. Here are the details:




APRIL 12, 2010
6:30 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Horacio Castellanos Moya (Dance with Snakes, Senselessness, The She-Devil in the Mirror), widely considered among the leading contemporary Latin American writers, will discuss his work, journalism, the myth of Roberto Bolaño, and world literature in general with Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books.

A finalist for the 2009 Best Translated Book Award, Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness introduced English-language readers to one of the most provocative, singular voices of twentieth-century Latin American literature. The recent publications of The She-Devil in the Mirror and Dance with Snakes received widespread attention, and with more translations already in the works, it’s clear that readers will be hearing about Moya for years to come.

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

16 March 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments

And below is some more info the first new Reading the World event, coming up very soon on Monday, March 22. Click to enlarge:




MARCH 22, 2010
6:00 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)
Sponsored by the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries

Open Letter editor E.J. Van Lanen will discuss the difficulties, joys, and controversies of re-translating Ilf and Petrov’s The Golden Calf, a revered Russian comedic classic, with the novel’s translators, and Rush Rhees Librarians, Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson

Teaming up with two petty criminals and a hopelessly naïve driver, Ostap Bender leads his merry band of mischief makers on a raucously hilarious jaunt across the “wild west” of the early Soviet Union in pursuit of a secret fortune. One of the true classics of Russian literature, this new translation of Ilf and Petrov’s The Golden Calf—the first complete translation of the novel—restores the absurd, manic energy of the original and reaffirms the judgment of the Soviet censors, who said: “You have a very nice hero, Ostap Bender. But really, he’s just a son of a bitch.”

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

16 March 10 | N. J. Furl |



More information on each event will be posted separately, but—so you can mark your calendars now—here is the rundown of all three events in this spring’s Reading the World Conversation Series at the University of Rochester.

These events are hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. All events are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.

MARCH 22, 2010
6:00 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Featuring: Helen Anderson & Konstantin Gurevich

Open Letter editor E.J. Van Lanen will discuss the difficulties, joys, and controversies of re-translating Ilf and Petrov’s The Golden Calf, a revered Russian comedic classic, with the novel’s translators, and Rush Rhees Librarians, Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson.
(Co-sponsored by the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries.)

APRIL 12, 2010
6:30 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Featuring: Horacio Castellanos Moya

Horacio Castellanos Moya (Senselessness, The Devil in the Mirror), widely considered among the leading contemporary Latin American writers, will discuss his novels, short stories, and journalism with Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books.

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

A Celebration of Open Letter

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

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

(For additional info, contact nathan dot furl at rochester dot edu)

10 November 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Last Thursday, we held our final Reading the World Conversation Series event of the fall, featuring a group of four international writers and translators in residence at Ledig House — an international writers residency in New York that specializes in hosting authors and translators from around the world.

Now, the video of the event is available. Contained within this eight-part playlist is some reading, some commentary, some strong opinions on translating, and some Q&A:


And here are some more specifics about the event, Ledig House, and our four guests:

November 5, 2009 – Ledig House International Writers Residency is one of the only residences of its type in the United States. Since its creation in 1992, Ledig House has hosted hundreds of writers and translators from roughly 50 countries around the world.

At this event, Chad Post (Director of Open Letter at the University of Rochester) leads a panel of writers and translators from around the world—all of whom are currently in residence at Ledig House. The panel includes readings and discussion from:

Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany): Her first novel, published 2007, became a bestseller in Germany.

Tom Dreyer (South Africa): His second novel received the Eugene Marais Prize. His third was shortlisted for the M-Net Prize.

Linda Gaboriau (Canada): She is an award-winning translator of Quebecs most prominent playwrights.

Pravda Miteva (Bulgaria): She has worked as a literary translator since 1994, and owns a small publishing house.

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

28 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments



Our final Reading the World Conversation Series event of the fall is already upon us. Next week, four international writers and translators—all in residence at Ledig House International Writers Residency—are visiting the University of Rochester.

Here are all the details:

Nov. 5, 2009
6:00 p.m.
Gowen Room, Wilson Commons
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Ledig House International Writers Residency is one of the only residences of its type in the United States. Since its creation in 1992, Ledig House has hosted hundreds of writers and translators from roughly 50 countries around the world. The colony’s strong international emphasis reflects the spirit of cultural exchange that is part of Ledig’s enduring legacy.

At this event, Chad Post (Director of Open Letter at the University of Rochester) will lead a panel of writers and translators from around the world—all of whom are currently in residence at Ledig House. The panel will include readings and discussion from:

Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany): Her first novel, published 2007, became a bestseller in Germany.

Tom Dreyer (South Africa): His second novel received the Eugene Marais Prize. His third was shortlisted for the M-Net Prize.

Linda Gaboriau (Canada): She is an award-winning translator of Quebec’s most prominent playwrights.

Pravda Miteva (Bulgaria): She has worked as a literary translator since 1994, and owns a small publishing house.

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

Facebook link.

27 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

The video is now available of last week’s (and, dare we say, our best to date) Reading the World Conversation Series event with the internationally bestselling author Jorge Volpi and preeminent translator Alfred Mac Adam. Parts 1-3 are Jorge’s reading, and parts 4-8 are the questions/answers between Jorge, Alfred, and the audience.


Here’s the skinny on the event:
Oct. 20, 2009 – Jorge Volpi—author of international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, and a founder of the “Crack” group—reads from his latest novel, Season of Ash, and discusses the new generation of Mexican writers.

Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. Praised throughout the world for his inventive story telling and stylistic ambition, Jorge Volpi has become one of the leading innovators of twenty-first-century world literature.

After reading from Season of Ash, Jorge Volpi is joined in conversation by Alfred Mac Adam—professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University since 1983 and translator of novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Julio Cortázar, as well as Season of Ash.

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

15 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Video is now up from our Reading the World Conversation Series event with the acclaimed French-to-English translator Charlotte Mandell. It’s in seven parts, and there’s interesting stuff throughout—with parts 1-3 comprising the reading and parts 4-7 comprising the questions/answer portion (conducted with aplomb by our own senior editor, E.J. Van Lanen).

About the event:
Oct. 6 2009 – The French translator of Balzac, Proust, Flaubert, and others reads from her new translation of Mathias Énard’s Zone (forthcoming from Open Letter) and takes questions about literary translation. Zone has already been called “The novel of the decade, if not of the century” (Christophe Claro). In short, it is a 517-page, one-sentence novel about a spy, a train ride, a briefcase, and the pervasive violence of the twentieth century.

Charlotte Mandell is one of the great French-to-English translators, and has translated such prominent works as: The Girl with the Golden Eyes by Honoré de Balzac, The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot, A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert, The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, Listening by Jean-Luc Nancy, and The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust.

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

15 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Our second Reading the World event in Rochester, NY, is right around the corner, and it’s going to be a great one featuring internationally best-selling author Jorge Vopli and Spanish translator Alfred Mac Adam. One and all should come. Here are the details:

OCT. 20, 2009
6:30 p.m.
Plutzik Library (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Jorge Volpi—author of international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, and a founder of the “Crack” group—reads from his latest novel, Season of Ash, and discusses the new generation of Mexican writers.

Alfred Mac Adam is the acclaimed Spanish translator of Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, among others.

Jorge Volpi’s new international bestseller Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Cher­nobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. Praised throughout the world for his inventive story­telling and stylistic am­bition, Jorge Volpi has become one of the leading innovators of twenty-first-century world literature.

After reading from Season of Ash, Jorge Volpi will be joined in conversation by Alfred Mac Adam—professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University since 1983 and translator of novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Julio Cortázar, as well as Season of Ash.

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

6 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

To all those in the Rochester area, don’t forget that—today at 5:00 p.m. at the University of Rochester—celebrated French translator Charlotte Mandell (Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, et al.) will be reading from her new translation of Zone by Mathias Énard (a 517-page, one-sentence novel, forthcoming from Open Letter) and talking about the art of translation.

Here’s the Facebook link.

Or just click on the flyer below to get all the primary details.

1 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

I know we just announced the new RTWCS events, but we’re already on the heels of the first one next week(!), featuring the incredible French translator Charlotte Mandell. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend. Here’s all the info:

OCT. 6, 2009
5:00 p.m.
Sloan Auditorium (in Goergen Hall)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Charlotte Mandell—the French translator of Balzac, Proust, Flaubert, and others—reads from her new translation of Mathias Énard’s Zone (forthcoming from Open Letter) and takes questions about literary translation.

Zone has already been called “The novel of the decade, if not of the century” (Christophe Claro). In short, it is a 517-page, one-sentence novel about a spy, a train ride, a briefcase, and the pervasive violence of the twentieth century.

Charlotte Mandell is one of the great French-to-English translators, and has translated such prominent works as:

  • The Girl with the Golden Eyes by Honoré de Balzac
  • The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot
  • A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
  • Listening by Jean-Luc Nancy
  • The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust

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

1 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

For all those in the Rochester area, here are the events we’ve scheduled for this fall’s Reading the World Conversation Series. More information on each individual event will be posted soon, but here is the rundown, so you can mark your calendars now.

These events are hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. All events are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.

OCT. 6, 2009
5:00 p.m.
Sloan Auditorium (in Goergen Hall)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Featuring: Charlotte Mandell

The French translator of Balzac, Proust, Flaubert, and others reads from her new translation of Mathias Énard’s Zone (forthcoming from Open Letter) and takes questions about literary translation.

OCT. 20, 2009
6:30 p.m.
Plutzik Library (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Featuring: Jorge Volpi and Alfred Mac Adam

The author of international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, and a founder of the “Crack” group, reads from his latest novel, Season of Ash, and discusses the new generation of Mexican writers with the acclaimed Spanish translator of Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, among others.
(Co-sponsored by Rare Books & Special Collections.)

Nov. 5, 2009
6:00 p.m.
Gowen Room (in Wilson Commons)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Featuring: International Writers in Residence at Ledig House

Ledig House is one of the only international writer residences in the U.S. This event features readings and discussion from Tom Dreyer (South Africa), Pravda Miteva (Bulgaria), Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany), and Linda Gaboriau (Canada).

(For additional info, contact nathan.furl at rochester.edu)

8 May 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Last week we hosted another Reading the World Conversation Series event at the University of Rochester (co-sponsored by PEN World Voices). This time we brought together the internationally renown Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad and fab American author and Rolling Stone contributing editor Mark Binelli. For your reference, here’s a rundown on the event with some short bios, and the video is below. Enjoy.

Reading the World Conversation Series: Jan Kjærstad & Mark Binelli from Open Letter Books on Vimeo.

30 April 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

To all of you in the Rochester area, be sure to come to the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel today at 6 p.m. for the newest installment of our ongoing Reading the World Conversation Series. This time we’re proud to bring to town Jan Kjærstad (an internationally renown author from Norway) and Mark Binelli (an American author and contributing editor to Rolling Stone). All the good info is here.

Also, to sweeten the deal, we’ll have an some excellent organ music at the top of the show, and food and drinks at the bottom. All of this, of course, is free.

We hope to see you there!

31 March 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you can see on the right side of the page, our featured indie bookstore for the month of April is Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Karl Pohrt and I are good friends (he’s actually on the advisory committee for Open Letter as well), and worked together to help launch the Reading the World program.

Although Karl and his store have been mentioned on Three Percent dozens of times, I really wanted to specially feature Shaman Drum this month to bring attention to a few different things, both good and frightening.

First off, as you may have heard, Shaman Drum has run into a bit of trouble. Back in February, Karl wrote a letter to the Ann Arbor Chronicle detailing the plight of the store and the fact that textbook sales were down $510,000 from the previous year and that the store might not survive.

After a trip to Nicaragua, he wrote a second letter saying that he would do all he could to keep the bookstore going.

During that trip he met Ernesto Cardenal, whose Pluriverse came out earlier this year from New Directions. Cardenal is going to be in Ann Arbor later this month, and we’re planning on running info and interviews from that event here on Three Percent.

Also in terms of good news, not everyone knows about this yet, but it looks like instead of a traditional Reading the World program this year, we’ll instead be having a RTW party at Idlewild Books in NYC on Thursday, May 28th in honor of Karl. Soo Jin and Declan from New Directions have been working on this, and I’ll make a special post with all the details in the near future. We’re hoping to have someone interview Karl about his life in bookselling, and we’re also planning on having a raffle to benefit Shaman Drum, RTW, and Idlewild.

In addition to linking all book titles to Shaman Drum’s online catalog, we’re hoping to post more information about the store, its history, employees, etc. Since this is one of “those stores” that people remember fondly for years and years, if any of you have any stories about S.D. that you’d like to share, please e-mail them to chad.post at rochester dot edu, or simply post them in the comments below.

17 March 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

With our Politics of Translation event coming up next Monday, this seems like a good time to post the video of a different event that we hosted last fall.

As part of the Reading the World Conversation Series, this “Translators’ Roundtable” brought together four literary translators—who work in a variety of languages and genres—to discuss their experiences. The conversation explored a number of different topics, from how they got started as translators, to the obstacles of retranslating classic works, to translating film scripts during the writers’ strike, etc.

In attendance were Michael Emmerich, Edward Gauvin, Marian Schwartz, and Martha Tennent. There’s a lot of brilliant discussion here—one of my favorite points coming from Michael who makes a case to those who lean on the phrase “Lost in Translation” that it is, instead, and “100% gain.”


Translators’ Roundtable from Open Letter Books on Vimeo.

16 March 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments [1]

Next Monday (March 23), we’re hosting a roundtable discussion at the University of Rochester with several highly distinguished guests—and, also, Chad will be there. Here are the basics:

“The Politics of Translation: What Gets Translated and Why”
March 23, 5:00 P.M.
Plutzik Library
(in Special Collections at Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester

It’s sure to be a lively discussion on the forces and fortuities that bring (or stop) literary books into English translation. The panel will feature:
-Amanda Hopkinson, British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, translator of Diamela Eltit and others.
-Suzanne Jill Levine, University of California-Santa Barbara, author of The Subversive Scribe, translator of Manuel Puig and others.
-Kathleen McNerney, West Virginia University, editor of “Garden across the Border: Merce Rodoreda’s Fiction.”

And will be moderated by:
-Chad Post, director of Open Letter Books, the University of Rochester’s publishing imprint specializing in literary translations.

This event is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Humanities Project, University of Rochester Arts & Sciences, and Open Letter Books.

Click below for the PDF poster/invite.

1 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the thirteenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

One of the first books to receive a NEA International Literature Award, Amanda Michalopoulou’s I’d Like is also one of the few works of contemporary Greek literature to be published in the States over the past few years. (She’s also one of the few authors I’ve stumbled across with a Red Room page.)

This book—translated by Karen Emmerich—is a collection of 13 stories that interweave and intertwine in a way that’s playfully metafictional and quite intriguing. (None of the descriptions of this book really do it justice, so instead, here’s a bit from the author’s “Clarification of What I’d Like”:

My original objective was to write a few short stories to supplement the twenty of so I’ve published here and there in the past few years. When I started to write, the old stories didn’t fit in anywhere—they scurried back to the anthologies they’d come from. So a new objective took shape: to write stories that would read like versions of an unwritten novel. Or, better, to write the biography of those stories as well as of their fictional writer.

This game is evident in the openings of the first two stories. The first is the title-story, “I’d Like”:

“Now! He’s alone!”

Vandoros is standing across the room from us, scratching his reddish beard. With his leather gloves and penetrating gaze he looks just like a fox.

“What are you waiting for?” I hiss.

My husband loosens his bow tie and crosses the room in his characteristic bouncing gait. He’d come up to me just like that, years ago, at a movie theater in Athens. “Don’t tell me you liked that film,” he’d said then. No, but I had liked his peculiar blend of awkwardness and chivalry.

And then from the second story, “A Slight, Controlled Unease”:

“Now! He’s alone!”

Vandoros is standing across the room from us, scratching his reddish beard. With his leather gloves and penetrating gaze he looks just like a fox.

“What are you waiting for?” I hiss.

I’m waiting to see where you’ll take it. The characters don’t convince me, with their gloves and their penetrating gazes. Give me a story. I want to dive in and splash around in the sense of a story. I’d like, as you say. What an idiot: I choose a book by its title.

We will be running a long review of this title in the not-too-distant future, but I definitely think it’s worth checking out. And hopefully one day, Michalopoulou’s other titles will make their way into English as well.

26 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the eleventh Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

Like a number of other online literary commentators, I’ve been blogging the hell out of Bolano’s 2666, talking it up as one of the “Big Books of BEA,” and one of the most anticipated galleys of the year. (Which really does still trip me out. Amid all the talk of how Americans don’t like foreign literature, shy away from dead authors, don’t like tildes, etc., etc., some schlubs at BEA steal the mock-up of the three-volume paperback from the FSG stand, which, granted, was very pretty, but was filled with blank pages.) I’m more than half-way done with this, and yes, it really is amazing.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to overlook the fantastic Bolano books New Directions has published in favor of 2666 and The Savage Detectives. All of the ND books—By Night in Chile, Distant Star, Amulet, and especially Last Evenings on Earth—are a testament to Bolano’s range and ability.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is no exception. This is one of my favorite titles from this year’s group of Reading the World books. I still giggle about the idea of recommending this to public radio listeners, since the title is somewhat misleading. Or not really—this is an encyclopedia of fascist writers, magazines, books, publishers, etc. But it’s all invented, and not at all the weighty, serious tome that the title suggests.

I wrote a review of this a few months back, and rather than re-heap the praise, I’d rather just reprint one of my favorite sections:

That was not to be Perez Mason’s last visit to the jails of socialist Cuba. In 1965 he published Poor Man’s Soup, which related—in an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokov—the hardships of a large family living in Havana in 1950. The novel comprised fourteen chapters. The first began: “Lucia was a black woman from . . .”; the second: “Only after serving her father . . .”; the third: “Nothing had come easily to Juan . . .”; the fourth: “Gradually, tenderly, she drew him towards her . . .” The censor quickly smelled a rat. The first letters of each chapter made up the acrostic LONG LIVE HITLER. A major scandal broke out. Perez Mason defended himself haughtily: it was a simple coincidence. The censors set to work in earnest, and made a fresh discovery: the first letters of each chapter’s second paragraph made up another acrostic—THIS PLACE SUCKS. And those of the third paragraph spelled: USA WHERE ARE YOU. And the fourth paragraph: KISS MY CUBAN ASS. And so, since each chapter, without exception, contained twenty-five paragraphs, the censors and the general public soon discovered twenty-five acrostics. I screwed up, Perez Mason would say later: They were too obvious, but if I’d made it much harder, no one would have realized.

25 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the tenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from “World Books.”:http://www.theworld.org/pod/worldbooks/wbpod5.mp3

New European Poets is a perfect example of the type of books Reading the World was created to promote. Over 300 large pages of poetry from more than 45 countries/regions (including Sapmi!) and a few hundred poets. The breadth of this anthology is impressive and admirable, and taken as a whole this is an incredibly valuable resource for anyone interested in reading (or publishing) European poetry.

The introduction by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer (the two primary editors who were assisted by twenty-three regional editors) is very interesting, especially the explanation they give of the goal of the anthology:

Our goal in putting together this anthology was not to pretend to present a comprehensive view of European poetry today—that would be impossible. Europe has nearly 750 million inhabitants and, depending on how you count, more than forty languages. In organizing an anthology simply of one nation’s poets, it’s difficult enough to determine, without the benefit of hindsight, which writers are important and will one day be influential. An anthology of European poets presents a whole host of additional problems—questions of national representation, translations, intranational languages and identifications, the politics of national boundaries, and so on. Nonetheless, we felt that it was important to bring this wholly imperfect endeavor to an American audience for three primary reasons: (1) the trajectory of European poetry has continued beyond the European poets known to an American audience; (2) culturally and historically Europe is radically differnt than it was just a few decades ago, and thus a reexamination of Europe’s poetry seems due; and (3) American poetry readers and poets seem to be less engaged with European poetry than they once were, which is a shame.

Right on.

24 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last week, Bill Marx—the mastermind behind the World Books section of PRI’s The World website—was kind enough to interview me about Reading the World for his World Books Podcast.

It’s always fun to talk with Bill—he knows more about international literature than almost everyone I know—and I think the conversation went pretty well.

Aside from this podcast though, I can’t recommend the World Books site enough. PRI’s The World—which is produced by PRI, the BBC, and WGBH in Boston—is one of my favorite public radio programs (one of the few, to be honest), and this site is quickly becoming one of the best world literature sites out there. A mix of interviews (with authors and translators), reviews, features, and podcasts, there’s always interesting new content on the World Books page (such as this interesting piece on Jordanian censorship).

I’ve linked to content from World Books a few times, and I hope this site will continue to grow and expand over the coming months and years.

In addition to this podcast with Bill Marx, I also had the honor of speaking with host Lisa Mullins about Reading the World for a short segment that will be broadcast later this week. It’s hard to judge these things, but I’m not sure I was quite on my game during this conversation, although I’m really glad that I recommended Nazi Literature in the Americas and suggested that kids read War and Peace and Don Quixote . . . Thanks to Harry Potter, modern kids are into monstrously long epics, right?

17 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A few weeks back, I mentioned the Reading the World/Words Without Borders Book Club featuring Robert Walser’s The Assistant. At the time the discussion was just getting underway, and all that was available online was Sam Jones’s excellent introduction and Susan Bernofsky’s translator’s afterword to the book.

Recently, the Translator’s Roundtable went live, including pieces by Tom Whalen, Mark Harman, Millay Hyatt, and Damion Searls.

This is one of the features of the new book club revamp that I really enjoy. Each of the four translators respond to the same set of questions (how did you first encounter Walser?, what are your favorite Walser pieces, etc.), making for an interesting series of vantage points. In particular, I really enjoy the responses to “Are there unique challenges that Walser presents, and how do you resolve them?”

From Tom Whalen:

Rhymes and puns, of course, are especially difficult. For her translation of “Letter to Edith” I had tried to help Susan Bernofsky with the following: “Ich wankte in eine Konditorei, und trank im Wanken sogar noch Kognak. Zwei Musiker spielten mir zuliebe Grieg, aber der Chef des Hauses erklärte mir den Krieg. . . .” What we came up with was “I swayed now into a pastry shop café and, reeling, if I may, put away some cognac. For my benefit two musicians played Grieg, but the proprietor declared war on me….” A few years later, after Masquerade and Other Stories had appeared, Susan made the following welcome improvement: “I swayed now into a pastry shop café and, reeling, if I may, put some cognac away. To please me, Grieg was played by two musicians, but the proprietor brought out his munitions . . .”

From Mark Harman:

I have translated—among other German-language authors—two novels by Franz Kafka with whom Walser has, of course, been linked. We know that Kafka read Jakob von Gunten, which he praised, and that he also read some of Walser’s short prose. While I found little trace of Walser while rendering The Castle, I could overhear certain Walserian tones in Amerika: The Missing Person (forthcoming in November from Schocken Books). Kafka himself spoke of his conscious use of “blurry” Walserian metaphors, and I could sense, especially in the first “Stoker” chapter, parallels between the attentive but naïve voice of Kafka’s young hero Karl Rossmann and that of Walser’s clerks. Having said that, though, Robert Musil was surely right to insist that Walser was an unique case and best not imitated. What is unique about Walser is that virtually all of his writing is composed in the same voice. While this observation may sound limiting, it is not, since his voice is capable of endless modulation. The chief task of the Walser translator is to capture that flux. [Ed. Note: Can’t wait to read this new translation of Amerika.]

From Millay Hyatt:

Walser’s wily neologisms, making full use of the elasticity of the German language that allows words to be strung together ad infinitum, are delicious in the original and something is always sacrificed in translation. Compounding the nouns or the adjectives in his unexpected, even startling way creates a whole slew of meanings the translator has to disentangle and, sadly, sift—there are never as many left when they’re put back together in the second language, speaking for myself anyway. I tried to spell out as many of the intimations as possible so that I had plenty to choose from when I made my choice, doing my best to preserve as many as I could.

And from Damion Searls:

I find Walser quite easy to translate: I read and re-read him until I get into his voice and then sit down and write it out in English. The specific tics of his German style—the neologisms, the Swissisms—are far less important than the overall wide-eyed battiness of his point of view (an outsider observing the world from such strange angles; intervening in society from such strange positions). And you can’t capture dialect in translation anyway. Translating other writers is a much more plodding and scrupulous process for me, but Walser invites free translations. I don’t mean “free” in the sense of distant— as with all great stylists, I’ve found, with Walser you always improve the translation in the revision stage by bringing it closer to the weirdness of the original—but in the positive sense that words like “free” and “loose” have in contexts other than translation.

All of their responses are interesting (the section on their favorite Walser pieces is a good starting point for someone interested in reading Walser), and I hope more people post responses at the Discussion Board. We need some legit readers to run people like “Emma,” with her 5000 poems and short stories (like “Prisoner of Love,” which begins “Sure I’m a prisoner, but I don’t mind / I’m the happiest jailbird you’ll ever find!”) off the message boards . . .

5 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The newly redesigned Words Without Borders/Reading the World book clubs are now underway, and this month the book under discussion is Robert Walser’s The Assistant, which came out last year from New Directions and is translated by Susan Bernofsky.

In contrast to the old version of the book clubs—which was basically a forum for people to post comments—the new version is a huge improvement, providing readers with an extensive list of online resources, discussion questions, and interesting, in addition to an online discussion forum.

For example, the page for The Assistant has Susan Bernofsky’s afterword to the book, along with Sam Jones’s introduction to Walser, along with a list of a dozen or so articles/reviews/bios/etc. that are all available online. Coming soon are a few interesting pieces, including “The Assistant and Swiss Literature” by Peter Utz and “Composition for Robert Walser” by Tom Whalen. There are also two roundtables planned: a translators’ discussion and one on Walser and the Visual Arts.

Overall this is a great template for how to create online reading guides, using many of the advantages available to the internet to provide readers with a context to approach the book. It’ll be interesting to see if this helps spawn more discussion in the forum section . . .

27 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for BookExpo America (aka BEA, aka ABA, well, OK, ABA is more than a bit outdated, but I think some people still say this), and with E.J. in Norway things might be a little quiet around here for the next few days.

This year BEA is in L.A., which is always nice and sunny. And somewhat inconvenient, since the fair has to be split up between two halls, forcing most people to walk back and forth and back and forth all day . . . but whatever. It’s still 72 every single day. And the parties are a bit more glamorous than the ones in Chicago.

In case you’re not familiar with BEA, this is an annual gathering of booksellers, publishers, reviewers, etc. It’s a chance for publishers to show off the books they’re bringing out over the next year and to touch base with independent booksellers from across the country. And yes, there are lots of parties. Overall, a good time is had by all.

I was talking to a professor here the other day about the difference between the Modern Languages Association annual conference and BEA. MLA is so high-pressure, both in terms of interviewing and having to present papers. You have to be on your game at MLA.

On the other hand, BEA is more of a celebration for surviving another year. (And really, when talking about indie bookselling, you can’t overplay the survival aspect.) A time to re-energize, to get excited about books all over again with a few thousand of your closest friends. Oh, and did I mention the parties? (This year there’s one at the Chateau Marmont.)

But seriously, BEA is the place where National Book Award buzz starts being generated, and where dudes in costumes walk around giving free hugs. It’s occasionally over-the-top, it’s frenetic, it’s crowded—it’s all of that, but it’s also a lot of fun to see everyone again and at least have a chance to touch base and, you know, congratulate them on surviving for another year.

In addition to mingling and picking up new galleys, there are a ton of educational events, including three panels on translation. (I’m on two of them, both on Saturday. One about funding for translations, the other about marketing them. Which, from what I’ve heard, is just a bunch of hype. And speaking of the marketing one, we have a late scratch—Gregg Nations from Lost won’t be able to attend since he’s “going dark” following Thursday’s season finale, which I take to mean that the finale is going to be “game changing” . . . )

Also on Thursday, we’re having the annual Reading the World party. This year it’s being held in collaboration with Bookforum and will take place at the REDCAT Theater (631 West 2nd St.) from 6-8pm. Anyone interested in going should e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu.

I’ll try my best to blog the BEA, but generally there’s not a lot of downtime. May turn into one long recap next week . . .

27 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the seventh Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

Europa Editions started in 2005 as the English-language counterpart to Edizioni e/o, one of Italy’s most important publishing houses. Europa primarily publishes literature in translation, although they do do some English books (such as Steve Erickson’s latest) as well. And although the overlap isn’t 100%, Edizioni e/o is in the unique position of being able to publish a particular title in both Italian and English. (And with the recent creation of Sharq/Gharb, e/o’s latest publishing venture, you can add Arabic to that list as well.)

Anyway, one of the first titles Europa published was Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, which did remarkably well and helped create a legion of Europa Editions fans. (It’s remarkable how popular Europa is with booksellers. Their books have a distinctive design, are very literary, and manage to find a readership. And now that Europa will be distributed by Penguin it looks like they’re about to jump to the “next level” so to speak.)

Ferrante’s an interesting figure. According to the Europa website, she is “one of Italy’s most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, [but] has successfully shunned public attention and kept her whereabouts and her true identity concealed.” (There’s not much more available online either . . .)

As described on the Europa website, The Days of Abandonment

tells the story of one woman’s headlong descent into what she calls an “absence of sense” after being abandoned by her husband. Olga’s “days of abandonment” become a desperate, dangerous freefall into the darkest places of the soul as she roams the empty streets of a city that she has never learned to love.

Considered somewhat scandalous in Italy, the shocking and straightforward tone of this novel really appealed to readers all over the world. And it’s not hard to see why based on the opening paragraph:

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice. He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me. He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere. Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.

(The first four chapters are available online.)

I might be wrong, but I think this is the most successful book Europa has published to date. And it’s a perfect Reading the World book—definitely worth checking out.

And if you like The Days of Abandonment, or if you’ve already read it, you may want to check out Ferrante’s latest, The Lost Daughter, which was reviewed over the weekend in the Seattle Times. (The review includes this selling line: “The Lost Daughter, is about as sentimental in its view of parenting as a Mother’s Day card inscribed in battery acid.”)

22 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Doubling up on RTW book posts today . . . This is the sixth title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

One of the great things about Reading the World is that it’s a blend of new books by authors most Americans haven’t heard about (see earlier post on The Corpse Walker) with classic titles like Don Quixote that are some of the greatest books ever written.

This can be one of the great downsides to trying to write about all the RTW books though . . . What does one say about Don Quixote that hasn’t already been said? Is there really a need to summarize the so-called plot? I will say that the new translation by Edith Grossman is fantastic, and that if you haven’t read Don Quixote this is a perfect opportunity to lose yourself in the wonderful, weird, endlessly entertaining world of knight-errant Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza. In a way, this may well be the perfect summer-reading, beach book . . .

Or, well, you could always just watch the movie:

Not sure this was ever released here, which may be for the best. As I said when I first wrote about this, the cleavage shot at :30 is pricelessly ridiculous, and the reference to “producers who saw Shrek“ is tongue-in-cheek not funny. But “I Fought the Law” may be the supreme craptastic moment of this trailer.

This is one case where I have no qualms about saying that the book is way, way better than the movie.

22 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the fifth entry in our series covering all twenty-five Reading the World 2008 titles. (We’re 20% of the way there!) Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

The Corpse Walker is one of the few titles in Reading the World history that’s nonfiction. Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich was part of the program a few years back (the same year it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction). Similar to Voices, Corpse Walker is a collection of oral histories. In this case, Liao Yiwu interviewed twenty-seven ordinary Chinese citizens from the “bottom of Chinese society: people for whom the ‘new’ China—the China of economic growth and gloablization—is no more beneficial than the old.”

With a good writer as interviewer, these sorts of books can be incredibly interesting and enjoyable. And in this case, thelist of people interviewed sounds fascinatingl:

Here are a professional mourner, a trafficker in humans, a leper, an abbot, a retired government official, a former landowner, a mortician, a fen shui master, a former Red Guard, a political prisoner, a village teacher, a blind street musician, a Falun Gong practitioner, and many others [. . .]

Liao Yiwu himself is a pretty interesting guy. According to the flap copy, he spent four years in prison for writing an epic poem condemning the killings on Tiananmen Square.

This book has been getting some good media coverage the past few days, including an interview with the author on NPR and a review in the San Francisco Chronicle that ends with this bit of praise:

Liao’s interviewees, most of them having no place in the official history nor voices that can reach a wide audience, prove to be among the best storytellers from the country. Reading The Corpse Walker is like walking with Liao: Even though our feet are not blistered and our bodies are not starved, in the end we are shaken and moved.

And the translator of the book—Wen Huang—is interviewed by Bill Marx on the new The World website. (More on the new website in the coming months . . . )

The World: Are works of non-fiction regularly censored in China?

Huang: “The Corpse Walker” was published and banned in 2002. But today a growing number of non-fiction works are published without interference from the police, even though some of these books criticize corruption in the government. In fact, books about the lives of real life people are enormously popular today — true stories sell well in China. But the government’s heavy hand, via self-censorship among publishers, still influences what is printed. If an author tackles a sensitive topic and publishers feel that the government would disapprove, they market it as fiction. So you have a paradox: on the one hand, more non-fiction is available, on the other, censorship continues because publishers are reluctant to print anything that might be seen by the authorities as threatening China’s economic stability, its carefully maintained image of wide spread economic prosperity.

There’s also an interesting bit in the interview on the difficulties of translating this book:

Still, some parts of Liao’s book were not translatable. The reason we picked 27 stories out of the 60 in the Chinese version was because of cultural reasons and the challenges posed by the speaker’s dialect, which in some cases was impossible to translate. There was one interviewee who talked about prisoners, drawing on a particular language that inmates use when torturing each other. It was a very interesting story but I gave up on it because I couldn’t capture its flavor in English.

19 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the fourth entry in our series covering all twenty-five Reading the World 2008 titles. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

With the release of The Nimrod Flipout a couple years back (another Reading the World title), Etgar Keret started receiving heaps of praise as one of the great young Israeli writers. He’s hip, young (just over 40), and his stories were featured on This American Life and Selected Shorts and in Zoetrope: All Story. And he’s been blurbed by such diverse writers as Salman Rushdie, Clive James, Neal Stephenson, and Amos Oz.

(This isn’t to say that Keret wasn’t already building a reputation pre-Nimrod. The first book of his to appear in English translation was The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories, which came out from St. Martin’s in 2001.)

This new title— The Girl on the Fridge —is actually a collection of early Keret stories that sound as odd and surreal as the ones in Nimrod Flipout.

Here’s the FSG description:

A birthday-party magician whose hat tricks end in horror and gore; a girl parented by a major household appliance; the possessor of the lowest IQ in the Mossad—such are the denizens of Etgar Keret’s dark and fertile mind. The Girl on the Fridge contains the best of Keret’s first collections, the ones that made him a household name in Israel and the major discovery of this last decade.

And the book has been getting pretty good reviews. Just yesterday in the New York Times Joseph Weisberg gave it a mixed review:

From the beginning, the most unmistakable aspect of Keret’s style has been the length of his stories. Averaging about three pages, each presents a single fully formed incident, often surreal. In one of the stories in “The Girl on the Fridge,” a man waiting on the street hears from a passerby that the buses are all dead. When he goes to the central bus station, he sees “hundreds scattered all over the place, rivulets of fuel oozing out of their disemboweled shells, their shattered innards strewn on the black and silent asphalt.” The story manages to be both whimsical and deeply serious, a flight of fancy built around an image from the very real world of suicide bombings. [. . .]

If you haven’t read Keret, start with his 2006 collection, “The Nimrod Flipout.” It shows him more fully in command, better able to connect his style to the emotion that lies beneath.

After reading that book, you’re likely to be a Keret fan, maybe a big enough one to wonder how his singular talent first took shape. That’s the time to read The Girl on the Fridge.

So it looks like there are two Keret books to read . . . And although it’s a ways off, in January, this title will be the featuring Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club book.

For more info on Keret, he was interviewed on All Things Considered a couple weeks back, and the segment is available online.

15 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on yesterday’s post, here’s the second round-up of this year’s twenty-five Reading the World titles.

Since The Post-Office Girl was reviewed in today’s NY Sun by Eric Ormsby it seems like the perfect book to feature next.

Stefan Zweig was born in 1881 into a wealthy and privileged Viennese Jewish family. He went to the best universities; he traveled widely. A member of that fabulous generation of Viennese intellectuals and artists, which included Sigmund Freud, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Arthur Schnitzler, Zweig became a best-selling author, producing biographies (of Erasmus, Dickens, Casanova, and others), plays and poems, essays, short stories, and a dozen novels (his “Beware of Pity” and the brilliant novella “Chess Story,” also translated by Mr. Rotenberg, have already appeared from NYRB Classics). He settled in Salzburg but was forced to emigrate in 1934 after the Nazi rise to power. He went first to London, then to New York, finally taking refuge in Petrópolis, just outside of Rio de Janeiro. It was as though he could not run far enough or fast enough. Thomas Mann declared proudly from exile, “Where I am, there is Germany.” As a Jew driven from his homeland, Zweig could never assume so grandiose a stance: The Austria he had so brilliantly personified no longer existed except in memory, and from that there was no escape.

This particular novel was published posthumously and centers around Christine, a young woman working at a post-office who is suddenly swept up into the world of wealth and glamor . . . at least for a short period of time.

We’re going to be posting a long review of this in the near future, but I’ll leave off here with one of my favorite “X meets Y” comparisons from the all-time master of master of this construction:

Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde in Zweig’s haunting and hard-as-nails novel [. . .]

14 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Since Reading the World 2008 is almost here—it technically runs through the month of June, when bookstores across the country display twenty-five translated titles (warning pdf) from fifteen different presses—I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight each of these books on the site.

And there’s no better place to start than with Columbia University’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi, which was translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan. This is especially relevant, since PRI’s “The World” just interviewed Michael Berry about the translation. (More on that below.)

First, here’s a description of the book from the Columbia UP website:

Set in post-World War II Shanghai, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow follows the adventures of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the longtong, the crowded, labyrinthine alleys of Shanghai’s working-class neighborhoods.

Infatuated with the glitz and glamour of 1940s Hollywood, Wang Qiyao seeks fame in the Miss Shanghai beauty pageant, and this fleeting moment of stardom becomes the pinnacle of her life. During the next four decades, Wang Qiyao indulges in the decadent pleasures of pre-liberation Shanghai, secretly playing mahjong during the antirightist Movement and exchanging lovers on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Surviving the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, Wang Qiyao emerges in the 1980s as a purveyor of “old Shanghai”—a living incarnation of a new, commodified nostalgia that prizes splendor and sophistication-only to become embroiled in a tragedy that echoes the pulpy Hollywood noirs of her youth.

Publishers Weekly gave this a starred review, calling it “A beautifully constructed cyclical narrative,” and “impossible to forget.”

And it’s worth noting that several of her other books are available in English.

The interview with Michael Berry is quite good, especially this description of the book:

The World: In what ways will the novel surprise Western readers?

Berry: I think many readers may be surprised by the initial absence of characters and story. In their place is a beautiful essayistic section depicting various facets of the city: the longtong or labyrinth-like alley neighborhoods, the pigeons that soar through the Shanghai sky, and even the abstract rumors that float through its back alleys.

It is only later that the author brings us into the world of her protagonist Wang Qiyao, whose story begins at a film studio, the place where dreams are created. While this opening sequence may come as a surprise for some readers (and may even account for the lack of enthusiasm many U.S. publishers initially displayed for the book), it is a beautiful piece of writing and, more importantly, those essayistic sections are what really tell us that this is not just the story of Wang Qiyao, it is the story of her city – Shanghai.

As the novel progresses, other surprises come via the brilliant way in which Wang gradually reincorporates these essayistic sections back into the body of the novel, interweaving them with the characters’ stories, until the reader discovers that they are actually one organic whole. The reader will also be enchanted by the novel’s structure, which revolves around three distinct eras in the heroine’s (and city’s) life and the powerful resonances that echo across time.

8 April 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Reading the World website for 2008 is now online, complete with info about all 25 titles (from 15 different presses), info about participating bookstores, how to sign up, how to get on the mailing list, etc.

In case you’re not already familiar with this, RTW is an innovative collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June. Last year over 230 bookstores across the States displayed works from these select presses, along with brochures and posters featuring artwork from the Czech artist Peter Sis.

We’re planning on reviewing most (if not all) of the titles in the program before June, and as of the moment, we’ve reviewed five:

Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes
Nazi Literature in the Americas Roberto Bolano
Yalo by Elias Khoury
Serve the People! by Yan Lianke
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

Speaking of reviews and related RTW promotions, if anyone out there would like to help promote RTW (maybe interviewing authors/translators for your blog, reviewing some of these titles, arranging RTW events, getting more press for the participating bookstores), please e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu, or post something in the comments. This program was conceived of as a grassroots sort of project that readers, reviewers, translators, booksellers, can all engage in and spread the word about in various ways. (For example, in years past the blogging community has done an amazing job helping to generate interest in the program.)

Anyway, I hope everyone finds a book or two from the list to enjoy, and I also hope all your local independent stores are participating . . .

8 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

(Today is a day in which I list things . . . ) Hopefully most of you are aware of Reading the World, a unique collaborations between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translations throughout the month of June.

This program came out of a series of discussions at BookExpo America five (?!) years ago, and has grown every year since thanks to its simplicity and elegance. Throughout the month of June, approx. 250 bookstores across the country display RTW titles complete with posters and brochures featuring the artwork of Czech artist Peter Sis. In the past, various bloggers, reviewers, radio hosts, and the like wrote and talked about many of these books, and the program in general, helping to create a certain buzz around RTW, which helped get these titles into the hands of readers.

I’ll be posting periodic updates over the next few months, especially once the artwork for 2008 is finalized, the new website is online, the Bookforum/RTW BEA party details are set, etc., but since we just finalized this list, I wanted to share it with everyone. This year the RTW list consists of 25 titles—20 from the 10 “core” publishers who have been part of the program from the start and 5 selected by a panel of independent booksellers.

So here they are in alpha order of publisher:

ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS

Yalo, Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux (Lebanon)

A Mind at Peace, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, translated from the Turkish by Erdag Goknar (Turkey)

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai, Wang Anyi, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan (China)

COPPER CANYON PRESS

So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971-2005, Taha Muhammad Ali, translated from the Arabic by Gabriel Levin and Peter Cole (Lebanon)

DALKEY ARCHIVE PRESS

I’d Like, Amanda Michalopoulou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Greece)

Knowledge of Hell, Antonio Lobo Antunes, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers (Portugal)

ECCO

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Spain)

Celestial Harmonies, Peter Esterhazy, translated from the Hungarian by Judith Sollosv (Hungary)

EUROPA EDITIONS

The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy)

FARRAR, STRAUS, AND GIROUX

The Girl on the Fridge, Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston (Israel)

Beijing Coma, Ma Jian, translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (China)

GRAYWOLF

New European Poets, edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer, translated from various by various (Europe)

GROVE

Serve the People!, Yan Yan, translated from the Chinese by Julia Lovell (China)

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

Peeling the Onion, Gunter Grass, translated from the German by Michael Henry Heim (Germany)

Woods and Chalices, Tomas Salamun, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry (Slovenia)

KNOPF

Mind’s Eye, Hakan Nesser, translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (Sweden)

Fire in the Blood, Irene Nemirovsky, translated from the French by Sandra Smith (France)

NEW DIRECTIONS

Nazi Literature in the Americas, Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (Chile)

The Assistant, Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Switzerland)

NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS

The Unforgiving Years, Victor Serge, translated from the French by Richard Greeman (France)

The Post-Office Girl, Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg (Austria)

OTHER PRESS

The King of Corsica, Michael Kleeberg, translated from the German by David Dollenmayer (Germany)

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, Jean Hatzfeld, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (France)

PICADOR

Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born (Norway)

The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogowa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Japan)

10 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club is now officially underway. This month James Marcus and Cynthia Haven will be leading a discussion of Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems. They have a lot of interesting things lined up for the next few weeks:

The discussion will include contributions from a wide range of poets, scholars, and translators, including Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new collection). Our hope, however, is that visitors to the site will feel free to chime in, whether they’re longtime admirers of the poet or have just been introduced to his extraordinary art.

The first post is Marcus’s introduction to Herbert and his poetic mouthpiece, Mr. Cogito:

It was during his California interlude that Herbert introduced Mr. Cogito—a musing (and frequently amusing) poetic mouthpiece. [. . .] Mr. Cogito was primarily a creature of mind. He read the paper, he studied his face in the mirror, he smoked a cigarette, but as his name suggests, his main business was cogitation. (In the end, he may have more in common with Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, whose telescopic contemplations took in everything but the self.)

What I find most interesting is that this twentieth-century Polish poet tried to keep politics out of his writing:

Yet he remained wary of mixing poetry and politics, famously clashing with a claque of younger writers at a 1972 poetry festival in Silesia. For a poet to flirt with ideology was, he insisted, a “punishable offense.” Engagement was a dead end, possibly a childish one. “The poet’s sphere of action,” he declared, “if his attitude toward his work is serious, is not the ‘contemporary’—which I take to mean the state of our current knowledge about society, politics, and science—but the real, the stubborn dialogue of man with the concrete reality surrounding him, with this table, with that neighbor, with this time of day: the cultivation of a dwindling capacity for contemplation.”

Helping get this book club off to a good start, there’s a second post available on WWB featuring an interview conducted by Cynthia Haven with poet and translator Peter Dale Scott. The conversation touches upon how Scott came to Herbert’s poetry, the relationship between Herbert and Milosz, and an interesting bit about why it took so long for Herbert to get a foothold with an American audience:

Scott: Herbert was far less known in America and partly for an accidental reason—the 1968 Penguin edition of his poetry was not for sale in America, and there was no U.S. edition until 1986. I have no knowledge why this was the case, but I suspect that the falling out between Miłosz and Herbert was not unrelated. A possible other reason might have been that Miłosz and I were also distant from each other in those years, thus unable to press together for an American edition.

These Words Without Borders book clubs are really remarkable, and work especially well when people log on and comment . . .

4 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

At House of Mirth James Marcus offers a preview of the upcoming Words Without Borders discussion of Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems 1956-1998, which promises to be quite interesting.

Next week, Cynthia Haven and I will be overseeing a Words Without Borders book club—an online conversation, more or less—devoted to Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems 1956-1998. I’d love to say that Herbert needs no introduction, but this giant of postwar poetry, who died in 1998, is still woefully undervalued in the English-speaking world. He is certainly on par with his compatriots Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, even if the Swedish Academy declined to recognize that fact. And his poems, with their pained dignity and dearth of punctuation, deliver a frisson like no other. The WWB discussion will include contributions from a wide range of Herbert experts, including (so far) Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new Ecco collection).

3 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Laila Lalami has two new posts up at Words Without Borders for the December discussion of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King.

In the first, she discussing the literary influences in the book, in which she points to Kafka as a huge force on the novel. The most interesting part to me—but I’m a sucker for literary lore and debate—is the bit questioning the authorship of the novel:

As I mentioned in my introduction, the publication of The Radiance of the King barely a year after The Dark Child, the differences in genres between the two books, and the slightly more existential quality of the second novel, have given rise to some questions as to whether Camara really wrote that second book. These rumors appear to be based on allegations by a Belgian critic named Lilyan Kesteloot in a work that was published after Camara’s death, and against which he could no longer defend himself. These allegations were later investigated by an American academic, Adele King, who also had to rely on second-hand accounts and hearsay, and who also cast strong doubts on the authorship of the novel.

The final post focuses on Toni Morrison’s intro to the novel, and the claim that Laye turned the typical “white man venturing into Africa” idea on its head.

It might be a bit late to join this discussion, but the January edition of the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club should be pretty interesting. Throughout the month James Marcus and Cynthia Haven will be discussing Collected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert (translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles). As soon as the first post goes up, I’ll be sure to mention it here.

11 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest post in this month’s Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club is now online.

This month Laila Lalami is directing a discussion of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King , which sounds interesting:

I want to start our discussion of The Radiance of the King by talking about the story itself. In the novel, Clarence, a white man of undefined origin and occupation, lands on the coast of Africa (which coast, you ask? We are not told) and in short order he loses all his money, in a gambling game, to a group of white men. He is evicted from his hotel, and the owner decides to keep Clarence’s trunk as collateral for the unpaid bill. Now Clarence is desperate; he wants to figure out a way to get his belongings, since his only possessions now are the clothes on his back, which are already showing signs of wear. He stumbles onto a street celebration for a local monarch, and immediately and rather arrogantly thinks that the king might hire him as an advisor, or at least vouch for him to the hotel owner, or, at any rate, know what to do to save Clarence from the misery in which he finds himself.

5 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that Michael Orthofer’s discussion of Mandarins has ended, it’s time for the next Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club to start.

This month Laila Lalami will be discussing Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King (NYRB). Her first post is now online and offers an overview of Laye’s life.

A year later, in 1954, Camara published his second novel, Le Regard du roi (translated as The Radiance of the King). This book was starkly different from the first in terms of subject matter and style. Indeed, its protagonist was not a Guinean child but a white man, shipwrecked on an unnamed coast of Africa, and the writing no longer held any nostalgia but was rather sharp in its observations of colonial attitude toward indigenous people. The differences between Camara’s first two books and the very short period of time between their publications, gave rise to questions about the true authorship of The Radiance of the King. But more on this later.

Intriguing . . .

More info about the book can be found on the NYRB website, including this description:

At the beginning of this masterpiece of African literature, Clarence, a white man, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Flush with self-importance, he demands to see the king, but the king has just left for the south of his realm. Traveling through an increasingly phantasmagoric landscape in the company of a beggar and two roguish boys, Clarence is gradually stripped of his pretensions, until he is sold to the royal harem as a slave. But in the end Clarence’s bewildering journey is the occasion of a revelation, as he discovers the image, both shameful and beautiful, of his own humanity in the alien splendor of the king.

4 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The final two posts from the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club discussion of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins are now online.

In the first, Michael Orthofer discusses the posthumous story “The Life of a Fool” and briefly compares the two available translations (De Wolf’s from Archipelago, Rubin’s from Penguin):

De Wolf: He read a book by Anatole France, his head propped up by a pillow of skepticism exuding a rosy fragrance; the presence in that same pillow of a centaur quite escaped his notice.

Rubin: Pillowing his head on his rose-scented skepticism, he read a book by Anatole France. That even such a pillow might hold a god half-horse, he remained unaware.

I like the De Wolf version considerably better—”pillowing” and “god half-horse” are just jarring, the second sentence-order feels off —but I’m glad to have the Rubin version too. Using it almost as a gloss I think I have a much better idea of what the Japanese original must be like.

The final post focuses on the story “Cogwheels” (or “Spinning Gears” in the Rubin translation).

27 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In Michael Orthofer’s most recent post on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s The Mandarins, he focuses on the writer himself:

As we slowly wind up the discussion, moving towards The Life of a Fool and Cogwheels (which I figure will be the appropriate notes to end on), I’m still struck by how much a proper (?) sense of the author eludes me. Try as I might, Akutagawa remains something of a mystery-man to me. And though I’m generally not big on worrying about the author behind the texts I find myself looking for more of a hold here—in part because even after reading this collection, which comes after I’ve read quite a few different Akutagawa translations over the years, I still don’t feel I know him or his writing that well.

Part of the problem with being able to identify a “Akutagawa story,” may be the various translations made of Akutagawa’s work, and the nature and quality of these early translations. Quoting from Donald Richie, Orthofer brings to the forefront the negative effect marketing can have on the publication of translations:

“Another problem with the foreign translations, besides their sheer number, is that Akutagawa was translated early. As a result, these first translations range from the unscholarly to the appalling. One of their unwelcome qualities is that they insist upon the exotic—this being one of the few ways to sell Japanese literature in the early days. An unfortunate result is that Akutagawa is made to seem quaint and curious, a mere purveyor of the exotic.”

I’m not so sure things have changed that much when it comes to selling Japanese books, or any country’s literature for that matter. Although nowadays there seems to be two marketing trends that reflect some of the things we’ve been discussing in terms of the goal of translation: emphasize the foreignness, the oddness or make the book so smooth it doesn’t appear to be a translation at all.

26 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of end-of-the-year lists, even if they do tend to be fairly safe and uninteresting.

I prefer the Guardian list because it’s a collection of “best books of the year” as recommended by other writers and cultural figures. This approach seems to lead to more interesting books getting mentioned, such Echenoz’s Ravel.

The New York Times list of “100 Notable Titles” is a bit more conventional and conservative, but it does include a number of international works, including three Reading the World titles: The Collected Poems: 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, and Dancing to “Almendra” by Mayra Montero.

14 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at WWB, Michael Orthofer has a couple new posts in the month-long discussion of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins.

The first is about the title story, and, well, it’s title:

When I hear (read) Mandarins, especially in an East Asian context, I think: Chinese wise men. Something along those lines, anyway. But the mandarins that give this collection—and the opening story—its title refer to the citrus fruit. Confusing matters further, the Japanese title of the story—Mikan—refers to a fruit that, while mandarin-like, is quite different. Others have apparently translated the title of the story as The Tangerines—not quite accurate either, but at least less ambiguous.

Is it just me, or does this title—and the impression it gives—cause some confusion?

The most recent post is about “An Evening Conversation,” one of the never-before translated stories included in this collection.

Translator De Wolf says in his notes that: “it follows in a long Japanese literary tradition of rambling conversations among males concerning life, love, and art,” and with that title one presumably shouldn’t expect anything different.

It is a curious approach to story-telling Akutagawa takes here, in An Evening Conversation: not quite story-in-a-story (i.e. someone simply recounting a tale, the telling of the tale little more than a framing device), but also not quite just table-talk.

This is one of the best WWB book clubs to date. Orthofer is very complete in his readings, and great at generating conversation. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

6 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This month’s Words Without Borders book club is just getting underway, with Michael Orthofer of Complete Review discussing Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins, which is published by Archipelago Books..

Orthofer is a book club master, so this should be a lot of fun.

26 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The conversation about The Rebels continues today with an interview between Mark Sarvas and Arthur Philips.

MS: Perhaps I’m reading too much into your New Yorker review, but the sense that I got was that you were at some pains to say nice things about a lesser work. I’ve mentioned that I think there’s a problem for modern readers in coming to Márai in a sort of reverse order. Do you think there’s a fundamental problem coming to Márai in this order, and that readers might be better served going straight for Embers? Or is there a strong case to be made for The Rebels on its own merits?

AP: I think Rebels does just fine on its own. It’s a younger man’s book with younger characters, written at a time when Márai hadn’t seen all hell break loose in his country yet. I wasn’t trying to prop up a lesser book. And, I really don’t know what else is out there; there are a lot of Márai books still only in Hungarian. So I don’t know the direction his style took. Embers is certainly more stylistically interesting to me than Rebels, but Rebels was funny, and the language more outlandish, more under the influence, I think, of Gyula Krúdy. Embers may not be his best or most characteristic novel, so I won’t say that the way to go is to start with Embers. There are some who will get more out of starting with the memoirs, I suppose. Even Casanova in Bolzano, maybe.

23 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s never too late to jump into the book group on Marai’s The Rebels that Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation is hosting over at Words Without Borders.

The most recent post is an interview with David Leavitt, novelist and editor of Subtropics about how he came to excerpt part of The Rebels in his magazine.

Next month’s WWB/RTW book club will be on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story collection Mandarins and will be hosted by the Complete Review’s Michael Orthofer.

4 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

All this month at Words Without Borders, Mark Sarvas will be leading a book discussion on Sandor Marai’s The Rebels.

The Rebels was a Reading the World 2007 title.

Mark’s introductory post should be up at the WWB Blog soon, but for now, here’s his post about the club, and his introductory paragraph:

The long and interesting literary life of Sándor Márai (or Márai Sándor, as a true Hungarian would call him) suggests that, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, even Hungarians can enjoy second acts. A prolific and respected author of the Hungarian middle class, Márai only became known to American readers when Knopf published Embers in 2001, in a translation from the German – about which more anon – by Carol Brown Janeway. Márai was suddenly enjoying the sort of posthumous success that writers, if they’re honest, hope for, not unlike the attention that’s being given today to Irene Nemirovsky’s lost corpus. Some days it seems a European writer can’t catch a break in America until he’s dead. (In Márai’s case, it’s especially galling as he made San Diego his home in his later years, dying there in 1989.)

7 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

From GalleyCat

The Association of American Publishers announced that it has joined forces with Las Comadres Para Las Americas, an informal internet-based group that meets monthly in over 50 US cities and growing, to build connections and community with other Latinas, to launch Reading with Las Comadres. The program is the cornerstone of the two organization’s support of September’s Hispanic Heritage Month. In the initial phase of the program members of Las Comadres will read one book per month, with the selected authors featured in teleconferences so that Comadres can learn more about the inspiration behind their works.

Great idea, and it’s interesting that the first book selected—Mayra Montero’s Dancing with Almendra—was a Reading the World book this year.

4 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The September Issue of Words Without Borders is now online and features Portuguese writing from Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, and Brazil, “with Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Rosa Alice Branco, Alexander Cuadros, Mia Couto, Manoel de Barros, Augusta Faro, Rubem Fonseca, Teolinda Gersao, Milton Hatoum, Conceicao Lima, Alberto Martins, Joao Melo, Ondjaki, Paulo Polzonoff, and Ana Paula Tavares, set to a soundtrack provided by DJ Spooky.”

And the Reading the World Book Club for September is underway. Along with Mark Binelli (Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!), I’m co-hosting this, and we’re going to be reading/discussing Georges Simenon’s The Engagement.

27 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Frank Wilson’s review of Simenon’s The Engagement is pretty much just a plot summary, but it does point to the aspect of the book that I found most intriguing:

Human beings, as portrayed in this novel, range narrowly from the merely ordinary and banal to the mean-spirited, bitter, and grasping. What makes it bearable to read about them is the sense that no grand statement is being attempted: This is just one group of people behaving in a particular way under certain specific circumstances. They represent only themselves, not humanity.

Along with Mark Binelli, I’ll be co-hosting an online book club for this title starting next week. I’m really glad I finally started reading Simenon (hopefully we’ll be posting a review of Red Lights soon), and as a short (135 pages), gripping book, it’s worth picking up a copy of The Engagement and joining in on the message boards.

23 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As most of you know, Reading the World is a unique collaboration between independent booksellers and publishers to promote literature in translation. During the month of June (yes, it used to be May, but that’s one of the changes), bookstores across the country display works of literature in translation along with brochures and posters featuring the artwork of Peter Sís.

In order to make the program more effective and inclusive, we’re going to be instituting a few changes for year four. The big change is that the Reading the World 2008 list will be made up of 25 titles from 15 different publishers. So we’ll be adding on five new presses and streamlining the selections so that stores will be able to display all of the titles and interested readers will have a better chance of being able to read a majority of the books over the course of the year.

The list of RTW 2008 titles will be announced in November, and as alluded to above, Reading the World month will take place next June.

There are other ideas in the works, and we’ll be sure to post all the information as things are finalized.

16 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Yesterday there were two reviews of Bruce Watson’s new book Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders and the Judgment of Mankind (one appeared in the New York Times, the other in the New York Sun) and both neglected to mention the best book about S&V — Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli. Seriously, this book is hilarious and amazing. And much more entertaining than this Watson book . . .

And bringing this all back full-circle, Binelli and I are going to be co-hosting the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club for Georges Simenon’s The Engagement starting after Labor Day. It’s a very interesting book, and I the online discussion should be a lot of fun, so I hope any and everyone reading this will participate.

19 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

Dan Wickett posted his third and final interview with RTW translators on the Emerging Writers Network today. All three group interviews are worth checking out, especially to get a sense of how translators work and what their perspective on literature is.

The translators included in this post are: Adam Sorkin (from Romanian to English), Christopher Bakken (Modern Greek), Sean Cotter (Romanian, Spanish, German), Steven Stewart (Spanish),
and Chris Andrews.

3 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

Anna Clark has a post at Critical Mass this morning about Reading the World, praising it for pushing people to expand their reading boundaries, but also chastising publishers for the lack of women writers included in this year’s program.

And yet, even Reading the World’s exciting project is lacking. Of the 40 titles hand-picked for the campaign, only 12 are written or edited by women.

The 70/30 gender split is, sadly, a generous one, compared to lists and articles by other translation advocates,I detailed in a recent article for Women’s eNews, but what it comes to is this: while the gender gap certainly is rooted in who does and doesn’t get published, translation advocates must be vigilant about not exacerbating the the near-erasure of women’s voices around the world.

All of this is great, and makes sense, but just to clear things up a bit, each of the participating publishers in this year’s Reading the World select the titles they’d like to include. There is little oversight, although we do try and pay attention to covering as many countries of the world as possible.

Once this blog goes live, I’ll explain in greater detail, but RTW 2008 will be a bit different and will allow us to correct the scales a bit and hopefully include more women writers.

But just to bitch for a second, there are already enough obstacles facing those who publish and promote literature in translation, and adding on one more—you must represent equal amounts of men and women writers!—is hardly conducive. It’s not as if women writers are being intentionally excluded, and when we’re talking aobut such a small percentage of books in translation, in real numbers—12 women vs. 28 men—the difference ain’t all that great. Besides, if we’re successful in getting people to read international lit, and more and more books are published in translation, the numbers may well correct themselves.

25 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

Although this is dated June 6th, I think the final parts of this interview were posted today . . .

In support of Reading the World, Dan Wickett of Emerging Writers Network (and Dzanc Books) hosted an e-round table discussion with four translators: Howard Curtis, Katherine Silver, Paul Olchvary, and Richard Jeffrey Newman.

It’s a pretty interesting discussion, especially since the four usually have different takes on each of the issues. Makes things lively . . .

25 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

In celebration of Reading the World Month, Scott Esposito has posted a number of interviews, reviews, and general articles about international literature in translation. (Full disclosure: He interviewed me as well to kick off this celebration. Which is why I really like him and keep posting about his site. Just so we’re clear about my bias.)

The latest is an interview with Alissa Valles, who translated Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems: 1956-1998.

Linked from this article you can find other interviews with Katherine Silver, Karen S. Kingsbury, Howard Curtis, Humphries Davies, and Natasha Wimmer.

15 June 07 | Chad W. Post | Comment

Yesterday it was announced that Per Petterson had won the IMPAC award for Out Stealing Horses published by Graywolf Press.

(Of course the official IMPAC webpage is for the “2006” award, but whatever, the idea that it’s actually 2007 is unbelievable to me as well.)

The IMPAC prize—which has also been won by Javier Marias, Michel Houellebecq, and Orhan Pamuk—is the largest monetary prize (100,000 euros) for a single work in English.

Out Stealing Horses was the only translation among the finalists, and another of Petterson’s books—In the Wake is a RTW 2007 book.

15 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

I have yet to read any of the Georges Simenon books reissued by NYRB, but after reading Luc Sante’s Bookforum article I’m definitely going to.

It’s difficult figuring out where to start though. . . Simenon was ten times more prolific than Joyce Carol Oates is, writing more than 400 books during his lifetime, including 34 in just 1929. Of course, most are pulp, but according to Sante, there are 117 roman durs (hard novels).

Sounds like he was quite a character as well: “In 1927, Georges Simenon, the phenomenally prolific Belgian author of crime novels, helped engineer a publicity stunt that sounds like a forecast of reality TV: He sat in a glass booth and wrote a novel in a week, in full view of the public.” (Although this never actually happened, I love the image of swarms of people clamoring to see someone write.)

Simenon’s The Engagement is a Reading the World title and is translated by the amazing Anna Moschovakis, so I’ll probably start there . . .

15 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

As one of the co-founders, I have a personal investment in this, but I truly believe that anyone interested in international literature should know about Reading the World.

RTW is a unique collaboration between publishers and booksellers designed to promote literature in translation. Each year, ten publishers (all listed on the official RTW site) select 4 works in translation to include in the program. Then, throughout the month of June, over 250 independent bookstores display these titles along with posters and brochures explaining the program (and the value of reading literature from abroad) and featuring original artwork from the Czech artist Peter Sis.

In celebration of this program—which blends well with the TP mission—we’ll be highlighting titles from the list of 40 books, reviewing some of the RTW titles, keeping readers up to date about other RTW goings-on, with the hope of making RTW more of a year-long event.

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The Antiquarian
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Reviewed by P.T. Smith

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .

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Elsewhere
Elsewhere by Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Reviewed by Grant Barber

What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Reviewed by Chris Iacono

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .

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Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .

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Stalin is Dead
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .

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Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.

The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .

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Two Crocodiles
Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky; Felisberto Hernández
Reviewed by Sara Shuman

This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .

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