3 January 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Sure, the start of a new year is a good time to look to the future, make resolutions you’ll definitely break, and all of that, but it’s also a nice moment to reflect on the past twelve months. Rather than include all the things that happened with Open Letter last year—from the success of our 2nd Annual Celebration to our $40,000 NEA grant to the ninth Best Translated Book Awards to the continued growth of the Translation Database—I’m just going to recap our 2016 publications, in no particular order.



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

Klougart’s novel was the first to be included in Writers & Books’ “Read Local” program, featuring great books from local (re: Rochester, NY) publishing houses. She was able to come here as part of a tour that included stops in Chicago, NY, Dallas, Houston, Portland, and San Francisco.

Here’s what Jeremy Garber from Powells had to say about her book:

The uncertainty, instability, doubt, regret, and longing that so often follow a failed relationship are richly and realistically conveyed. Klougart’s narrator’s emotional turmoil (punctuated, staccato) are quite nearly palpable and viscerally received. One of Us Is Sleeping, as much a series of thematically linked poetic offerings as a novel proper, is graceful and unforgettable. As Klougart’s narrator strives for clarity, understanding, and consolation, she’s left, as the rest of us undoubtedly are, to make sense of her own perceptions and boldly reassemble for herself the pieces of her shattered, shattering heart.

Josefine has another work in translation coming out later this year, and just released this amazing object in her home country of Denmark:






Justine by Iben Mondrup, translated from the Danish by Kerri Pierce

Sticking to Denmark, the recently release Justine is the third book in our Danish Women Writers Series. It’s been getting a lot of good attention, and was even selected by The Rumpus for their Book Club. As part of that, they ran an interview with Iben Mondrup and Kerri Pierce:

Brian Spears: Iben, I’ve never read de Sade’s Justine, but am I correct in thinking there are some parallels between that and your novel? Or is that coincidence?

Iben Mondrup: If there’s any comparison, it’s all about opposites, the polar opposites of De Sade’s Justine and mine. My Justine is sexual subject, she’s the one who desires, whereas De Sade’s Justine is an object of desire. She (my Justine), is aggressive, she’s going for what she wants as opposed to De Sade’s Justine, who is the target—and eventually the victim—of the desires of the world. She possesses no will.

Kerri Pierce: There’s a funny story, actually, about the graphic on the cover. One of my favorite parts of the book, and one of the editor, Kaija’s, favorite parts as well—which I also think speaks to Justine’s character—is when a one-night stand asks Justine if she’s a lesbian (and his tone is rather dismissive/incredulous) and she responds: “Wolf.”

Brian S: Kerri—I loved that moment in the book. That was brilliant.

Iben Mondrup: Exactly, she sees herself as a predator. A wolf, a lone she-wolf.



Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson

Chronologically, the second “modern classic” that we brought out this year, this is the one that’s getting the most buzz right now. An epic novel detailing the downfall of a Brazilian family through a series of confessions, letters, diary entries, and the like. Recently, The Onion’s A.V. Club reviewed it, stating:

The social commentary might have been lost on audiences when it debuted, but not his genre bending. Cardoso’s approach is as expansive as the lands on which his charmless bourgeoisie have lived for generations; he was a voracious reader with a preference for Gothic fiction and Russian lit, and those influences are on full display in Chronicle’s framework and themes. From its mysterious opening—which is actually the end of one character’s story—to the exploration of morality, the novel is a near-total manifestation of his talents.



Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Kazim Ali

The other “modern classic” I was alluding to, Abahn Sabana David was one of the few Open Letter titles to make it into the New York Times this year:

In this slim, raw political novel, Abahn the Jew and his double (also Abahn) spend a long night with Sabana and David, who have been sent to guard them by the Communist party boss Gringo. Fragmentary dialogue occurs about gas chambers, “Jew-dogs” and the fact that Gringo is coming by to kill Abahn(s) as a traitor. Gunshots and howling hounds are heard. By the last page, Sabana and David have allied themselves with their captive(s) and claimed the identities of Jews, the “laughter of joy . . . covering their faces.”

How to understand this text, available for the first time in English, in Kazim Ali’s translation?



A Greater Music by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

At the start of 2016, I predicted this would be our huge breakout hit of the year. I was obviously wrong about that—at least according to sales, sheer number of reviews, random mentions on Internet lists—but I still stand by this novel as one of the best we’ve published. And after her next two translations come out—including The Owls’ Absence, which we’re doing next fall—I think readers will start to cotton on.

Of the reviews this did receive (so far), there are a number of really thoughtful, intelligent piece, such as this one from Tony’s Reading List:

With Bae Suah living in Germany, it’s tempting to see parallels with her own life here, but A Greater Music is much more than a simple confessional piece. The shorter pieces that have appeared in English have been marked by beautiful writing, punctuated by spiky, aggressive outbursts against the strictures of modern society. Here, these themes and styles are extended over a much larger canvas; it’s a fairly slow tale, at least initially, and the story is given space to breathe before coming to life in the second half.



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

The first novel to be translated into English from the two-time winner of the Dashiell Hammett Prize, it just got a glowing review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Gesell Dome is a bizarro Robert Altman film in book form: hundreds of characters and storylines that paint a portrait of a community, but with events far stranger than anything Altman created.
If the novel has a central character, it’s the Villa, which, like other cities in Argentina, accepted Nazi war criminals as residents after World War II. Now it is home to more than 50,000 people, many of whom drive around in 4×4s and harbor prejudices against “half-breeds” and other foreigners.

These residents give Dante [local journalist] many stories to cover, including the scandal that opens the novel: Eleven kindergartners referred to as los abusaditos are abused at Nuestra Señoradel Mar, a religious school “where the snobs send their progeny.” Parents are rightfully horrified, but other residents don’t want the media to cover the story for fear of the effect the news will have on tourism.



Party Headquarters by Georgi Tenev, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

Party Headquarters is the sixth book we’ve published from Bulgaria. To put this in context, all other publishers did a combined total of seven over the past nine years. Here’s what “The Literary Review”: had to say about it:

Clocking in at only 121 pages, Georgi Tenev’s taut novel Party Headquarters is at once a tragedy, a comedy, a love story and thriller, with echoes of A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, it tells the story of a man tasked with visiting his father-in-law, a former Communist party boss. The father-in-law then sends him on a mission to bring back a suitcase containing a million Euros suspected to be pilfered from the coffers of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The whole story is set against the backdrop of the meltdown of Chernobyl, and if the basic plot seems like the kind of high-octane premise that Hollywood would deliver, that makes sense: Tenev also writes for film and TV.



The Brother by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen

Sticking with our shorter books from 2016, I’ll turn to Estonia and Rein Raud, whose Brother got an “A-” from Michael Orthofer:

The Brother doesn’t exactly ride into town on a white horse, and he isn’t simply all swagger, but the resemblance to the Sergio Leone-spaghetti Westerns (especially the ones with Clint Eastwood) that author Raud admits inspired him is striking. The story is almost all atmosphere and style (showing also Raud’s other big inspiration, the writing of Mr. Gwyn (etc.)-author Alessandro Baricco), and one can almost hear the (Western movie score) background music.

The relatively short chapters — each at most a few pages — are rich but stark, the essentials — of mood and incident — sketched but not belabored. Much is masterfully understated, but the full ramifications easily expand off the page for the reader. The book is short, and quite event-filled, but there’s an agreeable languor to it all too; nothing is rushed.



Bardo or Not Bardo by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by J. T. Mahany

Volodine has been gaining steam over the past few months, and the combination of this piece from The Nation with the forthcoming release of Radiant Terminus may finally push him over the edge. (I just received a wonderful email from Unabridged Books in Chicago about Volodine that really cheered my bitter soul.) As evident his New Inquiry piece (currently unavailable?), Volodine’s world is complex and greatly rewarding. It can also be a bit daunting to enter, but of the three titles Open Letter has done/will do, I think Bardo is the best place to start. From Ben Ehrenreich:

This year, Open Letter published Bardo or Not Bardo (2004) in a translation by J.T. Mahany, who also translated Post-Exoticism in 10 Lessons, Lesson 11. It goes without saying that it is a very odd book. [. . .] But Bardo or Not Bardo has its rewards. For all its darkness, it is extremely and blessedly silly. [. . .] Yes, it’s all very strange, but in Volodine’s world, that hardly counts as a complaint.



The Clouds by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Hilary Vaughn Dobel

This is our fifth Saer book—with more in the works—and was included on NPR’s list of Five of the Year’s Best Books in Translation:

This imaginative novel traces the journey of Dr. Real and his mentor as they work treating patients at an insane asylum in Argentina. Saer’s prose, while often likened to Proust, carries a beautiful quality that is also uniquely his. Page after page, The Clouds is a poem to be savored.
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Overall, that’s a solid list. I hope you found a few books from us that you read and enjoyed last year. And stay tuned—2017 includes some insanely good titles, starting with books from Antoine Volodine, Can Xue, Rodrigo Fresan, Iceland’s James Joyce, and more . . .

1 October 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s been some months since I posted about GoodReads Giveaways here on Three Percent, but since I recently scheduled ones for all of our forthcoming winter titles, I thought I’d invite everyone to enter into these drawings.

Both of these giveaways—for The Brother and for A Greater Music—run from October 1st until October 15th, and you can throw your name into the virtual hat simply by clicking through the “Enter Giveaway” boxes below.

First up, Rein Raud’s The Brother, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen:

Winner of the Eduard Vilde Literary Award

The Brother opens with a mysterious stranger arriving in a small town controlled by a group of men—men who recently cheated the stranger’s supposed sister out of her inheritance and mother’s estate. Resigned to giving up on her dreams and ambitions, Laila took this swindling in stride, something that Brother won’t stand for. Soon after his arrival, fortunes change dramatically, enraging this group of powerful men, motivating them to get their revenge on Brother. Meanwhile, a rat-faced paralegal makes it his mission to discover Brother’s true identity . . .

The first novel of Rein Raud’s to appear in English, The Brother is, in Raud’s own words, a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to both Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco. With its well-drawn characters and quick moving plot, it takes on more mythic aspects, lightly touching on philosophical ideas of identity and the ruthless way the world is divided into winners and losers.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Brother by Rein Raud

The Brother

by Rein Raud

Giveaway ends October 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway




And then A Greater Music by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith:

Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she’s been house-sitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator’s relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher who was once her lover.

A novel of memories and wandering, A Greater Music blends riffs on music, language, and literature with a gut-punch of an emotional ending, establishing Bae Suah as one of the most exciting novelists working today.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Greater Music by Bae Suah

A Greater Music

by Bae Suah

Giveaway ends October 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway




20 September 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Officially pubbing last Tuesday, The Brother by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen, is a spaghetti western and “philosophical gem” (West Camel). It’s also Raud’s first novel to appear in English, following an appearance in the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology.

The book has received a couple of reviews already, including the one by West Camel referenced above (“within its short length [The Brother] manages to explore in great depth big ideas about human agency and determinism”), along with one in Kirkus (“a slim but satisfying novel with archetypal resonances”), and at The Bookbinder’s Daughter (“I was so thoroughly impressed with his language, imagery and characters”).

To celebrate the release of this book, you can buy it now for $10 from our website by using the code EASTWOOD at check out. And to give you a few more reasons to want to grab a copy, below please find an interview with Rein Raud.



The Brother by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen

The Brother, Rein Raud’s first full-length work to appear in English, is a spaghetti western that has been referred to as “a lone Eastwood in the midst of a flock of van Dammes” (Tarmo Jüristo). It reads a bit like a fairy tale or mythical play, with a mysterious stranger (the “Brother” of the title) arriving in an unnamed town to right some wrongs. Below you’ll find an interview Rebekka Lotman conducted with Raud when The Brother was first published in Estonia.

Rebekka Lotman: Is The Brother the kind of book that you yourself would readily pick up?

Rein Raud: Yes—I at least always try to only write books that I believe the world is lacking. And you’re always most content with the latest thing you’ve written, up until there’s enough distance from it. I have to admit that the more time that passes, the more I also read books that counterbalance the visceral literary experiences of what I normally read. I don’t want to find out how awful things actually are when I’m reading, because I already know.

When I’m reading a very depressing text, I can understand that it’s outstanding literature, but when I think about what to start writing next, then I always tend to postpone pieces like that until better days, so to say, because it’s already not easy being human. Good literature doesn’t necessarily have to leave a bad aftertaste, even when it touches and moves you. In that sense, I’ve also always wanted to write in a way that might offer others support.

RL: How did The Brother come to be?

RR: Unexpectedly. The first chapter popped into my head during a seminar on freedom, in which we were discussing the concepts of liberty, and I simply came up with it out of the blue to use as an example. Afterward, I went home and wrote it down, and the rest of the story suddenly began to branch off from there. Actually, I’ve wanted to write a spaghetti western for a long time. Leafing through my old manuscripts recently, I found that my first attempt at the genre appeared in my first poetry collection, Barefoot, from 1980—a prose-poetry cycle titled “The Diner.”

RL: What fascinates you about Baricco?

RR: Baricco has the most precise parlance out of all the living writers I know—the ability to convey highly nuanced emotion in a light, descriptive language that is almost musical. Unfortunately, almost all of it has been lost in the Estonian-language translations I’ve come across. But I hope that kind of language transcends the connection to a single author and permeates—something like how Petrarch revised the sonnet in his time, or Chekhov’s and Ibsen’s theatrical language.

A school of writing like that has actually already developed in Italian literature. For instance, Paolo Giordano, author of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which has won many literary awards, is a student of Baricco, and there are also others among rising new writers.

RL: Where did you get the idea to combine him with Bulat Okudzhava and Clint Eastwood?

RR: Well, I wouldn’t like to say I’ve focused on the conscious combination of influences in my text—more like I’ve simply written, and then honestly acknowledged what parts of my intellectual biography shine through in the result. But Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood are my absolute favorites in that genre, as is Eastwood’s own self-directed High Plains Drifter, which they certainly strongly influenced.

But what’s more compelling for me than the setting and plot developments is their strange method of depiction, which prefers a very large and very general scale over an ordinary medium one. Important things can happen in a way that we either don’t see them at all because we’re observing the scene too closely and they are out of frame, or else we see them from too far away and might not even notice them. I like that—events and reality transpire in their own rhythm, but we never reach them; we only come closer.

As for Okudzhava, some of his songs convey the hopes of the downtrodden very well. But musically, it’s not crucial for the song in the least. There’s much more of that in Beth Gibbon’s performance of Rodrigo Leão’s “Lonely Carrousel” or in T Bone Burnett. Even so, I hope that searching for the influences listed in the acknowledgements at the back of the book doesn’t disturb the story itself for anyone.

RL: The Brother also speaks of justice. Is the world just?

RR: The world is the way it is. I myself would say it speaks rather of the winning/losing axis. One secondary character in the novel says that everyone who wants to win by any means will always lose. Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple in real life. But I suppose the establishment of the problem is defined a little by the genre, too: a nameless man wearing a big hat and a flapping coat arrives in a tiny town under the control of a corrupt group of men. What happens next is simply inevitable.

RL: Love has an important role in the book. One definition of love you propose is quite beautiful: “love springs from the ability to prefer imperfection over perfection.” Did you intentionally try to highlight love, justice, and other human values?

RR: I’ve always seen it as a problem when the negative characters in books and films are more interesting than the positive ones. Everyone “good” is cookie-cutter or anemic, for the most part, or else they’re not actually as good as they appear. I’d like this to be different in my books, because in my opinion, real-life evil and spite are actually more boring than nobleness and idealism most of the time. I wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone calls this sentimentality.

RL: There are also philosophical musings, such as: “For what good is a name if it isn’t tied up in a network, connected to faces over the span of time, discovered in the trails that could demarcate the whole world?” Do you feel that you are in a teacher’s role as a writer?

RR: Not in this book, although my last, longer work Hector and Bernard was indeed a conscious attempt to bring Socratic philosophy into the contemporary world (thereby being more instructive). There are relatively few such places in this book, although I suppose I didn’t manage to separate entirely from the kind of mindset that tends to rationally present inner truths.

Remember, you can buy it for $10 by visiting our website and using EASTWOOD at checkout.

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